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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mountain Lions? I Hope So!

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., August 20, 2005.)
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.
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.

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….


Blogger Archer1999 said...

Brother Steve - just got finished with reading your acoount about cougars/mountain lions. I must say it was an excellent article and very well put together.
When Laurie, our children and myself were still living in Russell, Pa ( above the Heritage House restaurant) we had a very interesting incident happen. I've told very, very few people about this.
It was early summer and about 3 am. Our daughter Sarah came into our room unannounced, which either of our children Ever do. She said (and I quote) "there's something outdoors makeing a noise that I've never heard. I then asked her what she was doing outdoors at 3 am - she said the dog needed taken out. She asked me if I would come out with her ... of course. Mind you, this was in DOWNTOWN Russell,Pa. When I got out side this animal was emitting a blood curdiling scream/ catter walling such as I've never experienced in the flesh. The dof could have cared less (deaf). The creature kept it up for about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Everytime it would cut loose the rest of the dogs within ear shot came unglued. I said to my daughter "take Blackie back into the house". We both got into our van and drove thru most of the streets into Russell (not a huge selection). We had made atrip up thru al the roads that inter-weave at Pine Grove cemetary. It was also a medium foggy night. We were coming back the main road back into Russell ans we were beside the Verizon bldg. my daughter said very alertly and assuredly "Dad! what was that just crossed the intersection?" - all I saw was a non-identafiable blurr. Without describing what the anatomy of a cougar is to her - ( I wanted her story, I did not want to plant words and pictures in her mind just so she could say yes and argree with me." She then proceeded to describe in detail just exactly what the anatomy of this animal was, what Sarah sighted and properly identified was a half grown cougar. I do have a witness whom at least heard the cougar in Russell but I'm not at liberty to release the persons name. Where this person heard it was the Very exact place that I had heard it and approximately 80 yards from the sighting location. The very next day I contacted the PGC and was blatantly told that what I heard was not a cougar, but a bobcat. I told the WCO that I heard Bobcats in the wild and this was in no way shape or form even close to a cougars voice. The WCO then proceeded to inform me that the state of Pa. has no cougars - my response was "excuse me mam" her response was we don't THINK we have any cougars in Pa - my resonse was "excuse me mam" - she then said "we don't think we have any breeding pairs in Pa. Very logical response. My next response was then why didn't you tell me that in the first place instead of stringing me along" - no comment from her. Perhaps we don't have any breeding pairs and then again perhap we do. A single cougars territorial boundaries are an excessive amount of square miles. There could very well be a breeding pair inhabiting both states at the same time. She was polite and we ended the conversation on good terms. But what I did get a kick out of the telephone conversation was this - this lady WCO was 60 miles away in Franklin, Pa (our regional hdqtrs) and she was informing me of what I heard and did not hear - ha. Archer1999

2:02 PM


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