Report of "lion" temporarily closes Natu|Richard_F||07/27/06 at 22:35:40|richard_f|xx|0||Report of "lion" temporarily closes Nature Center

Jackie McKeon and Sara Poirier
New Canaan Advertiser
Jul 27, 2006

Everything is “back to normal” at the New Canaan Nature Center this week after an animal, estimated between 200 and 250 pounds and said to resemble a mountain lion, was reported on its trails Thursday, July 20.

According to officials, what was seen was most likely a large dog.

Three women visiting the Nature Center with their children told employees about the sighting at about 11:45 a.m., while summer camp was in session. Animal Control was immediately called, and in addition to three officers from the State Environmental Police who showed up to investigate, more than 12 New Canaan Police officers searched the trails for three hours, to no avail — animal tracks were found, but no animal.

“The prints are definitely not a cat of any sort,” Sgt. James Warren of the State force said Tuesday. “The only tracks found were dog tracks. It’s very unlikely to be anything but a dog.”

All campers were kept indoors before their parents picked them up. The trails were closed, and nearby residents were alerted and told to remain indoors with their pets.

“We, of course, made sure all children and visitors were safely inside and off of the trails,” said Catharine Sturgess, executive director of the Nature Center.

The afternoon session of the summer camp was canceled, and the Nature Center was closed while officers conducted their search for signs of the reported large animal.

The Nature Center reopened at 4 p.m. that day.

Sgt. Warren said that there have been no other sightings of a similar animal at or near the Nature Center since last Thursday, and that “in this stage in the game, it’s even less likely that it was a mountain lion.”

According to the online encyclopedia, a mountain lion — or puma — can weigh between 75 pounds (for a female) and 150 pounds (for a male). Male bobcats, it said, can weigh between 24 and 35 pounds.

Sgt. Warren said that while there is a population of bobcats in Connecticut, wild animals don’t usually come in to populated areas such as New Canaan, especially, he added, considering the Nature Center is close to downtown. He also said that in his 18 years at the Environmental Police, he’s never seen an actual photograph of a mountain lion in Connecticut, and any reports of them have just been hearsay.

Animal Control Officer Mary Ann Kleinschmitt said in a Nature Center press release that her investigation did not indicate anything “unusual” was on the property. She added that although primarily found in the western United States, wild cats such as mountain lions have been sighted in western New York.

She said that wild animals common to the New Canaan area include bobcats and black bears, which have recently been reported in neighboring towns.

The New Canaan Nature Center houses more than 40 animals, including rabbits, ferrets, snakes and birds of prey. It does not house any large cats.

It is different from a zoo because its animals are used for teaching purposes and have been injured in the past or, for some other reason, are unable to survive alone in the wild.

Lisa Monachelli, director of youth and family programs at the Nature Center, was off-site at the time of the report. She said, though, that children and employees are back out on the trails with “no worries.”