Black or brown, where are cougars found?|Richard_F|richard@cfz.org.uk|06/17/04 at 16:42:35|richard_f|xx|0|81.154.199.140|From the Manchester (NH) Union Leader:
John Harrigan: Black or brown, where are cougars found?
June 13, 2004

I GET the oddest mail at this time of year, when a lot of people are getting
out and wildlife is the most active.

One query last week was about a large snake a reader saw in Deerfield. It
coiled itself up and rattled like a rattler, and had mottled markings along
its back, but seemed to be a constrictor, not a biter.

Because the Deerfield area constitutes some of New Hampshire's last known
rattlesnake habitat, this was an interesting question. I suggested it might
have been an eastern water snake. It turned out to be an eastern milk snake.

Another letter concerned black squirrels - not just the occasional
melanistic (black) individuals, which are genetic quirks that occur with the
same likelihood as albinos, but entirely black mini-populations within a
normally colored species. This reader's parents had told him they were
living among such a bunch of black squirrels in the Midwest, and when he
went to visit, lo and behold they were right.

I actually had heard of this concentration of black squirrels in Medina,
Ohio, and there are other well-known examples in Massachusetts and
Pennsylvania. Similarly, there are small pocket-populations of black
whitetail deer, most famously (as I recall) on and around a military
installation in upstate New York.

All of this begs the question, which is if there are as many melanistic
individuals as there are albinos, why aren't they reported anywhere near as
often? (Answer: Because they're a lot harder to see.)

And now we get down to another interesting aspect of mini-populations of
black animals, one that deals with cougars. Cougars in the Northeast are a
problem to begin with because they represent a big public relations and
veracity headache for wildlife officials.

Hundreds of good, solid cougar sightings are reported each year, and solid
proof of at least an individual cat here and there has turned up in states
and provinces all over the region. Yet New Hampshire officials cite the lack
of solid proof, and as to origins will only grudgingly acknowledge the
possible existence of escapees or releases.

Nowhere in this picture is there room for a viable wild population. All of
this is exacerbated by the fact that in a good share of daytime cougar
sightings, the animals are described as being black.

Keith Kidder, the conservation officer who saw a cougar run across Route 3
in Pittsburg in front of his vehicle in broad daylight, said it was black.
And on the GS maps, old and middle-age and new, there are black cat names
all over the place dating from settlement times - Black Cat Spur, Black Cat
Ridge, Black Cat Swamp.

If the very existence of cougars here has the wildlife community breaking
out in a sweat, the idea of a black sub-population must have them in
conniptions.




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