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Locals report big cat sighting, Ma. 8/15/08

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 2:54 pm    Post subject: Locals report big cat sighting, Ma. 8/15/08 Reply with quote

Locals report big cat sighting
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Article Last Updated: 08/15/2008 07:57:25 AM EDT

Friday, August 15
PITTSFIELD The lanky cat slowly made its way across the Pittsfield woman's backyard, hanging low to the ground as if it were stalking prey.
"I saw it cutting through my yard into my neighbor's yard," said Martha Pope, a resident of Mountain Drive, which runs along the city's rural eastern edge near Washington Mountain.

Pope said she regularly sees deer and fox in her backyard. And, she added, "A big bear cuts through sometimes."

But she has never seen a large cat resembling a mountain lion use her yard as a cut-through.

"I thought it's got to be a deer, or a big dog, but then I realized it had a really long tail," said Pope, who initially thought the animal was a bobcat.

But the sinewy cat she spied shortly before sundown Saturday was bigger than a bobcat, she said, and certainly larger than her family's yellow labrador retriever.

Pope, who works at the Berkshire County Courthouse, said she immediately called her husband, but not the police.

However, a woman in Sheffield, a good 45-minute drive south of Pittsfield, did contact the authorities earlier that day after spotting what she claimed was a mountain lion in her backyard.

Two purported big cat sightings on the same day in opposite ends of the county: Coincidence?

An official with the Berkshire County Sheriff's Communication Center, which dispatches emergency calls countywide, confirmed Saturday's

report of a "cougar sighting," but he referred all inquiries to the Sheffield Police Department. A phone message left on the department's answering machine last night was not immediately returned.
Even though state wildlife officials say it's highly unlikely Berkshire County is suddenly home to a burgeoning mountain lion population the big cats were last known to roam these parts in the mid-19th century this is not the first time the county has caught cougar fever.

The last flurry of reported sightings occurred in 2000, with the bulk of calls coming from South County residents, including Georgiana C. O'Connell, a former Monterey selectwoman.

O'Connell, in a January 2000 interview with The Eagle, said she witnessed "a powerful, large cat with a tawny coat, a long tail and muscles" casually walk into a Monterey field that winter.

She was one of dozens of South County residents who reported seeing mountain lions also known as cougars, catamounts, panthers or pumas, depending on what part of the world you live in roaming the byways of Berkshire County in the late-1990s through 2000, according to law-enforcement and wildlife officials, who still receive occasional reports.

Although footprints said to resemble those of a mountain lion were reportedly discovered in Beartown State Forest in 2000, Massachusetts Department of Fisheries & Wildlife officials remain confident that most of the reports they receive are either cases of mistaken identity or possible sightings of creatures that escaped captivity, such as cats that had been kept as so-called exotic pets.

"We get a fair number of mountain lion/cougar reports each year, including a couple this month," said Andrew Madden, district manager of MassWildlife's Regional District Office on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield.

Madden said that in many instances people are simply mistaking a bobcat a smaller cat with a smaller tail for a mountain lion, which can grow to 7 feet in length from nose to tail.

"People almost always overestimate the size (of the animal)," he said, noting that MassWildlife biologists have not seen any tangible evidence of a mountain lion population in the Bay State.

"It would be a long leap from a scientific standpoint," said Madden, noting that the nearest known cougar population is in Wisconsin, several states away with large developed and industrialized areas in between.

The cats mainly survive in the western United States, particularly in the Rockies, with populations scattered throughout the Dakotas and into the upper Midwest, Maddensaid.

The bobcat, which is found throughout rural sections of western, central and northeastern Massachusetts, has a short tail "that can be extended out behind" the animal when it hunts, according to Madden, while the cougar's thick, ropelike tail can be nearly as long as the animal itself.

If the commonwealth had a cougar population, scientists would have detected its presence by now, according to Madden. Such indicators might include "credible" tracks, road kill discovered along rural byways, or signs of food "caching," in which the cat stashes food for future eating, Madden said.

Dalton Animal Control Officer Mike McClay said he has received a few sighting reports in recent years, including one last year. But, he noted, "Until somebody actually gets a picture of one in their backyard, it's just going to be an unconfirmed sighting."

MassWildlife occasionally reviews photographs purportedly depicting large cats in the Berkshires. But most of the images tend to be fuzzy or show animals that are not cougars, according to Madden.

A Stockbridge woman recently reported seeing a mountain lion in Goshen, Conn., about an hour south of the Berkshires in nearby Litchfield County, while some old-time Berkshire hunters claim the big cats never left the region.

For those who believe the county's mountain lion population is on the rebound, according to MassWildlife officials, the last confirmed cougar sighting was in 1858, in neighboring Hampshire County. The wildlife agency's official State Mammal List indicates that recent sightings are either "suspicious or unverified."

For Pope, the Pittsfield woman who claims she spotted a mountain lion over the weekend, the presence of a big cat in her backyard was "definitely a shock."

"It moved slowly, kind of like it was slinking through the yard, sort of looking side to side," said Pope. "It had to have come down from (nearby) Washington Mountain."

Accounts of cougars in Massachusetts are not unique to the Berkshires. Supposed sightings were reported in 2003 and 2004 in sections of Acton, Beverly and Manchester-by-the-Sea, according to published reports in the Boston Globe.

Big cats at a glance

In the United States, the mountain lion, whose scientific name is Puma concolor, is found mainly in western states, with smaller populations extending into the midwest. The species has the widest distribution of any animal in the Western Hemisphere, from Alaska to Argentina.

The last known record of one in Massachusetts was in Hampshire County, circa 1858.

Mountain lions are also known as catamounts, cougars, pumas or panthers.

They can grow up to 7 feet in length, from nose to tail, and weigh up to 200 pounds.

Their favorite food is deer, which they track and kill.

In Massachusetts, many people mistake the bobcat, or Lynx rufus, for the mountain lion. Bobcats are smaller than mountain lions with shorter tails, and found primarily in western, central and northeastern Massachusetts.
Sources: Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife and www.cougarnet.org.
13years of dedication Studying "Cougars" taking sighting reports, Tracking & Filming the wild!
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 3:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Martha Pope gave excellent details to the sighting of the mountain lion. Very Happy

It was good to see this article in the newspaper today, as a warning to the neighbors around her.

They state there have been a FEW reports over the years....gee maybe they should check our records... Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes

It was not long ago I interviewed a man that hit a mountain lion that had $1500.00 in damage to his car. He reported the hit animal to the state police and the Thruway toll booth employee. Many others that saw the accident happen also reported it. I called a Cougar.net local and asked they look for the cat...he replied "he did not have time and was not going to look"
The man that hit the cat was certain the animal would not survive the crash. He was driving at 70 mph when the cat ran in front of his car and he hit it.

So my question is....with all these escaped exotics, does any one really look for them Question

Cougardaville Wink
13years of dedication Studying "Cougars" taking sighting reports, Tracking & Filming the wild!
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 12:41 pm    Post subject: More cougar tales surface new and old Reply with quote

More cougar tales surface new and old
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Article Last Updated: 08/16/2008 07:58:07 AM EDT

Saturday, August 16
PITTSFIELD Two same-day sightings of a big cat that eyewitnesses claim was a mountain lion not the smaller bobcat common to these parts has prompted people from Dalton to Lee to recall sighting tales, both old and new.
Mark Matthews, a longtime hunter from Pittsfield, is convinced that mountain lions, also known as catamounts or cougars, still roam the remote sections of sprawling Berkshire County.

"I come from a hunting family," said Matthews. "They are here and have been but wildlife folks don't want people to panic."

Officials with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife say it's unlikely that two reported cat sightings last Saturday were mountain lions. If anything, the animals spotted in Pittsfield and Sheffield a few hours apart were likely bobcats, according to MassWildlife.

Close encounters

An article published in The Eagle yesterday spurred many local residents to contact the newspaper with tales of their own close encounters with mountain lions, which have not inhabited Massachusetts since the mid-19th century, according to state records.

But that detail has not stopped people from coming forward, many of whom point out that they know the difference between a bobcat and a cougar.

Case in point: "I know what I saw. It was longer, bigger and leaner than a bobcat," said Lenox resident Nancy Barrett, who claims to have seen a

cougar near her Hawthorne Street home last year.
"I couldn't believe what I saw," she said, adding that the first thing she noticed was the cat's long tail.

Long-time residents

Bobcats, which can reach nearly 4 feet in length and weigh up to 35 pounds, have bobbed tails stretching to up to 7 1/2 inches. Mountain lions, which can weigh up to 200 pounds, have long, thick tails.

While bobcats, though elusive, are common throughout western Massachusetts, the last record of a mountain lion in the Bay State stretches back to roughly 1858, according to MassWildlife's State Mammal List.

Matthews claims that an effort to repopulate the commonwealth with mountain lions was launched in the early 1960s, with several cats released in the vicinity of Mount Greylock. That information could not immediately be verified with state wildlife officials.

The Eagle reported alleged catamount sightings in the vicinity of Monument Mountain in Great Barrington in September 1966, with at least one resident spotting a large cat and the discovery of tracks along the muddy banks of the Housatonic River.

In the four decades since then, Berkshire residents have sporadically reported big cat sightings, with a concentrated round of sightings reported in 2000. Now, with two sightings last Saturday, some people are wondering if cougars have found their way back to the Berkshires.

Meanwhile, some longtime hunters, including Matthews, believe that the animals never left the area, although their numbers have dwindled steadily. MassWildlife officials say they have no tangible evidence that cougars, catamounts or mountain lions as Puma concolor is alternatively called survive in the Bay State today.

To that end, The Cougar Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to studying cougar-habitat relationships, reports that central and western Massachusetts and adjacent areas of Connecticut have had a large number of sighting reports, but no hard evidence.

Nonetheless, The Cougar Network, which a ranking MassWildlife official cited as a credible resource for information about the species, confirmed the discovery of cougar scat in 1997 in a northern section of the Quabbin Reservoir wilderness area, which borders Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester counties. A DNA analysis of the feces determined that it had come from a cougar.

Additionally, there was a beaver kill buried in leaves in typical cougar fashion. Mountain lions like to "cache" their food, which they bury then return to later, according to Andrew Madden, chief of MassWildlife's regional office in Pittsfield. Beaver DNA also was found in the scat, indicating that the cougar had eaten some of the beaver.

But whether the animal escaped from captivity or migrated to the remote Quabbin region remains a mystery.

Ann Kuni, who lives along a rural stretch of Kirchner Road in Dalton, thinks a big cat may have visited her property, which includes fields and woods. Two years ago, a family member installed a motion-sensitive digital camera to gauge the suitability of the land for hunting purposes.

In addition to capturing images of a large bear, the camera snapped a shot of what appears to be a large cat moving through a clearing in the woods. Kuni held on to the photo, shot on Aug. 15, 2006, but never showed it to wildlife officials.

Yesterday, however, officials at the Pittsfield MassWildlife office analyzed the animal captured in the photo, which an environmental police officer identified as a large bobcat.

Kuni alerted The Eagle after reading yesterday's article about an alleged cougar sighting by a Pittsfield woman who lives less than 2 miles from her home. In that case, a Mountain Drive woman said a large cat slowly made its way across her backyard shortly before sundown last Saturday.

Kuni, whose yard is regularly visited by everything from wild turkeys to bears, still thinks the photo may show something other than a bobcat.

Lee resident Bill Basinait said he spotted a large cat in Lenox Dale after dark last week.

"A cougar walked didn't run but kind of leisurely walked across the road about 70 yards in front of me," said Basinait, who was driving along Housatonic Street at the time.

"Quite a sight," he said. "I wish I had a digital camera."

Matthews, the hunter from Pittsfield, said he spotted his first mountain lion about four years ago on Route 20 near Hancock Shaker Village. It was nighttime, he said, and he stopped to shine his lights on the animal.

"To see one," he said, pausing for a moment. "Fantastic."



|Report Abuse |#7 33 min ago
Mountain lions are being seen in every Eastern state. What is most consistent is the denial of the government officials telling you that it was possibly an "escape or released cat". It does not matter what they choose to call it, a mountain lion is a mountain lion. The public should be given safety precautions when encountering this apex predator. Instead you are told you made a mistake in identity. I have interviewed hundreds of people that have witnessed the sighting of a mountain lion (cougar). Their descriptions are accurate and precise, they know what they saw. When you see these cats the approximate time in your view is 5-15 seconds, so how many can get out their camera if they have one and take the picture? Next...tracks, how many are looking for tracks and can identify them if they saw them? Scat, blood and hair are costly to have analyzed. Field cameras are the best option for possible "proof". Even when setting camera traps you need money for all the bells and whistles.. to get that cat in front of your lens. But, it can be done. Please visit my web site, educate yourself on these predators. All the titles on the front page are click links, that will answer many questions. Use the sighting button to report to us. The US Fish & Wildlife launched a study of the existence of mountain Lions in all the Eastern States 18 months ago. They are currently listed as an Endangered Species. To date, they still have not released the results of this study.

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