Mountain Lions? I Hope So!
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., August 20, 2005.)
Do I really mean that? After all, considering their attacks on joggers in California, mountain lions, or cougars, are hardly safe to have around. And with my luck, I'd probably be the first person attacked in Pennsylvania. But I would like to believe we have mountain lions.
If they're here, the proof will come sooner or later. If they're not, no one will be able to prove it -- and rumors will persist indefinitely.
Many of us have heard stories about them. I've met several people who claim to have seen mountain lions -- locally and in other parts of the state. These men are not crackpots. They are reliable, intelligent, and not given to exaggeration.
A few weeks ago a new story emerged from the Coudersport area in Potter County, and was reported in the York Daily Record. A dog owner had his keeshond tied out on a dog run. A keeshond is a Dutch breed, medium-size, well tempered and friendly. It's reminiscent of a husky but slightly smaller with a tightly curled tail.
It was a hot day and the owner had watered the dog at lunchtime. A few hours later he found it tangled in its chain, dead and badly mutilated, with mountain lion tracks in the torn-up turf surrounding it. The owner claims that he has seen lions several times over the past 3 years, sometimes stalking deer, and says that the Wildlife Conservation Officer who was called was unwilling to investigate.
Do I believe this report? I don't disbelieve it, just as I don't disbelieve others whom I respect as credible witnesses. Could they have been mistaken? Possibly, just as I'm sure everyone (including me) has been mistaken about something a time or two. That's what makes this issue so difficult.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission says the big cats are not established in Pennsylvania, but some accuse the PGC of conspiring to hide evidence of their presence, and worse, participating in transplanting them here.
For the scientific angle on this issue, I turned to the website of the Cougar Network (formerly the Eastern Cougar Network) at www.cougarnet.org. If a wild breeding population of mountain lions lives in Pennsylvania, these researchers should know.
According to their June 2005 issue of "Wild Cat News," the Network takes an objective approach, not trying to prove or disprove the existence of the cats in the east -- "its only advocacy is for good science." Their ongoing database of wild cougar sightings does not include any confirmed sightings in Pennsylvania except possibly along the southeast border, far from the northern community of Coudersport. The confirmed sightings were in northern Delaware from 1996 to 2002, where officials are convinced that the animals were of captive origin.
Of the other mid-Atlantic states, the Cougar Network website says it is "a region where it is unlikely a remnant breeding population could have survived undetected over the past century. There was an old incident in western Pennsylvania in 1967 where a squirrel hunter shot a cougar while out hunting, but it was later confirmed that this animal was an escaped captive. In West Virginia, hunting with dogs is very popular…, every year thousands of hunters using hounds are out in hunting season pursuing bobcats, black bears and other wildlife. This means you would expect these hunters would regularly tree cougars if they were present, but this has not occurred."
Further, "Today, deer are very abundant making it potentially a good environment for the return of cougar to the landscape. However, there does not appear to be any evidence of either transients or remnant populations at this time. The occasional confirmations are most likely escapees or intentional releases and/or their progeny."
This is exactly the same position that the Pennsylvania Game Commission holds.
In light of the Cougar Network and the Pennsylvania Game Commission sharing the same view, I doubt that the PGC is involved in any conspiracy either to transplant or to cover up the existence of mountain lions here in the Keystone State.
However, plenty of people in Potter County and elsewhere are sure lions prowl the mountains, and more are convinced as time passes. If they're right, perhaps the only way to verify it is with a dead one, or with a picture of one showing up in front of a hunter's scouting camera. Either way, it might be difficult to prove it's not an escapee from someone's private menagerie.
I'm waiting to be convinced. If they're here, the proof will come sooner or later. If they're not, no one will be able to prove it -- and rumors will persist indefinitely. Now, about Bigfoot….