Back in March, I did a post about how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had declared that there were no longer any mountain lions in the eastern U.S. Yet people claim to see mountain lions and cougars all the time here. The official explanation is that they escaped animals from zoos or what have you, but the “zoo escapee” explanation is to cryptozoology as “weather balloon” is to ufology. It’s a blanket explanation that skeptics use to explain away sightings of big cats or apes in the cases of Bigfoot sighting. usually though, there are never any zoos or circuses that are reporting lost animals. And even if there are, one escaped animal doesn’t account for dozens or hundreds of sightings over many years. But now comes news that a mysterious mountain lion was killed by a motorist in Connecticut.
BOSTON (Reuters) – A mountain lion was killed just 70 miles from New York City early on Saturday morning, and officials were trying to determine if it was the same big cat spotted a week ago roaming the posh suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut.
The 140-pound mountain lion was hit by a small SUV on a highway in Milford, Connecticut, early Saturday morning, and died from its injuries. The driver was unhurt, officials said.
With no native mountain lion population in the state, “it’s possible and even likely” it is the same enormous cat with a long tail spotted last weekend in the New York City suburb some 30 miles away, said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Dennis Schain.
The large cat was transferred to a state environmental facility where authorities will use the photos, paw prints and other evidence collected near the three Greenwich sightings to determine if it is the same animal.
Traveling between the two cities would be a jog for this large cat known to roam extensively, even up to a couple hundred miles in a day, said Schain.
The eastern mountain lion was officially declared extinct earlier this year, prompting authorities to suspect the animal spotted in the urban jungle of the New York City metropolitan area, had either escaped or was released from captivity.
The closest confirmed population of mountain lions is in Missouri, half way across the country.
Mountain lions, also known as a cougar or puma, are lone animals that in the east primarily preyed on white-tailed deer.
“By and large, cougars want to stay as far away from people as they possibly can because they are so solitary,” said Bob Wilson, a co-founder of The Cougar Network, an organization devoted to tracking and researching the animal.
Wilson said mountain lions like to hunt in the shadows and it would be a very remote chance to encounter the cat.
The eastern cougar was hunted and trapped “relentlessly” and gone from much of the region by the late 1800s, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Around the same time its habitat was destroyed by deforestation and the population of its prey declined.
It will be interesting to see if any local zoo or circus claims this to be an escaped animal of theirs. I’m guessing nobody will come forward.