Are cougars out there? Let's see some real proof|jon_downes|jon@cfz.org.uk|04/29/05 at 13:34:41|jon_downes|xx|0|81.154.154.251|
From the Times Herald (Olean, NY): 24 April 2005
Are cougars out there? Let's see some real proof
By Jim Eckstrom

It was early morning Tuesday and I was driving to work, just coming up on
Limestone.

A mottled brown blur scrambled down the embankment and ran right in front of
my car on Route 219. As I hit the brakes I realized it was a very large
bobcat, its stubby tail bobbing as it ran across the road. It ducked under
the center guiderail, bounded across the southbound lanes and disappeared
down into the Tunungwant Creek bottomland.

It was an exciting thing to see and I mentioned it in the office.
"Sure it wasn't a cougar?" someone asked, half joking.

For the record, I know a bobcat when I see one so, no, it wasn't a cougar.

The little joke in the office came from the fact that we hear lots of
reports and rumors that mountain lions, extirpated from this region in the
1800s, are living in the Twin Tiers.

I've heard all kinds of stories.

People I know well, including experienced hunters, have sworn to me they've
seen the big cats leap across their headlight beams on nighttime roads.

We've heard reports of cougar sightings on the outskirts of Olean, in the
Scio area and elsewhere in Allegany County.

My brother, who used to bartend at The Westline Inn (where the, ahem, B.S.
can run high) has heard plenty of cougar tales. My brother-in-law, who lives
in Michigan but knows a group of guys who bowhunt in Potter County, Pa.,
told me a couple of years ago that these guys swore to him they were being
stalked by two cougars as they left their stands after an evening hunt.

A few years ago, when I was an editor at The Bradford Era, a man called the
office to report that he had just seen a Pennsylvania Game Commission
vehicle pass by with, he swore, a dead cougar on its steel rear-bumper rack.
The guys was positive, he said, because the animal's tail was plainly
hanging over the side of the rack.
I called the wildlife conservation officer who patrols the area where the
report came from. He told me, yes, that was him and, yes, he was hauling a
roadkilled animal. Except it was a dead deer. The "tail" hanging down was
actually the deer's mangled leg. I'm just relating what the officer told me.

Which brings us to the oft-expressed belief of many, both in New York and
Pennsylvania, that the wildlife management agencies in both states are
"stocking" the big cats in ongoing efforts to kill ever more deer. After
all, it's gospel to many hunters I know that the agencies introduced coyotes
into our woods so they would kill deer. (The perfectly reasonable
explanation that coyotes gradually migrated back into the northeastern
United States just isn't as exciting, I guess.)

For its part, the New York Department of Conservation acknowledges the
rumors, but asks for proof.

"To date, no hard evidence has been produced that would prove the existence
of cougars living in the wild in New York ... no tracks, scat, dead cougars,
photos, videos or audio tapes," says the agency Web site. "Rumors have been
circulating for the past few years that the DEC has released cougars to
control deer populations. Some of these rumors claim that Officer 'Jones'
participated in the release, or that people have actually seen cougars with
ear tags or neck collars, so they must have been released by the state. This
is not true. The DEC has never released cougars, despite what you may hear
to the contrary."

In Pennsylvania, wildlife management officials I've talked to believe it's
entirely possible that a cougar, if it escaped from or was released by a
private owner, could survive in the region. But, like their New York state
counterparts, they say they want to see concrete evidence.

Which is what I'm saying, too. Show us the proof.

And don't waste anyone's time with bogus Internet photos, like the one a lot
of people fell for last year (and which, apparently, is making the rounds
throughout the East). Someone brought into the newsroom a copy of the photo,
which appeared to have been taken by one of those infrared-triggered trail
cameras, purportedly in the Scio area. The picture indeed showed a cougar
stalking closely behind a deer. There was just one problem: The deer looked
everything like a mule deer, a decidedly Western species which, as far as we
know, hasn't managed to migrate to Western New York (or maybe the DEC is
stocking them, too).

So even photos or video, without easily identified local reference points,
will be looked at with suspicion.

Better yet, give us a call next winter when you find a deer kill in the snow
and it is surrounded by big cat tracks at least six inches wide. We'd be
excited to come check it out.

We believe cougars just could be out there. We just want more proof than
stories and rumors.

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