Some Suspects in On-Going Catamount Investigation

Some Suspects in On-Going Catamount Investigation Image

Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol

More than 70 years have passed since a mountain lion was hunted and killed in New England.  In 1938 a Quebec trapper caught the last one on record—in Maine.  New Hampshire’s last killing occurred in the White Mountains in 1885.  Alexander Cromwell shot the final and largest specimen ever recorded in Vermont in Barnard in 1881.  It weighed 182 pounds and measured seven feet.  A mount of this magnificent animal, with Cromwell’s rifle, is displayed at the Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier.

The mountain lion — a.k.a. cougar, puma, panther or catamount (cat of the mountain) — has long occupied a mythic role in the region.  In his 1853 book, “Natural History of Vermont,” renowned naturalist Zadock Thompson mentioned the strength and leaping ability of the mountain lion. “One of these animals took a large calf out of a pen in Bennington, where the fence was four feet high, and carried it off on his back,” he wrote.  “With this load, he ascended a ledge of rocks, where one of the leaps was 15 feet in height.”

In the mid 1800s, mountain lions were considered such a threat to human life and livestock that the Vermont Legislature issued a bounty of $20 for each pelt.  Adjusted for inflation, that would have equaled about $550 in today’s dollars.  The bounty and civilization have had an impact, for in the East the mountain lion as a species has virtually disappeared.

Nonetheless, residents of northern New England seem to be on the lookout for them. Wildlife biologists in the region get plenty of reports of sightings, but most reports are cases of mistaken identity —what people are seeing most likely are bobcats, lynx, coyotes, or domesticated mountain lion escapees.

Time and again, biologists play Sherlock Holmes, taking testimony from those reporting sightings and combing the outdoors for tracks, fur and scat.  They wield forensic tools worthy of a contemporary CSI crime drama—detailed lab exams of suspect droppings and DNA analysis of purported catamount fur. 

Mountain lions are noticeably larger than the other large mammals for which they are mistaken.  A mountain lion can weigh well over 150 pounds, while a bobcat might weigh up to 35 pounds and reach 45 inches (tip of nose to end of tail); a coyote 50 pounds and 53 inches; or a lynx 35 pounds and 40 inches. 

Wild populations of mountain lion survive in southern Florida and in mountains of the West.  They make dens in caves and crevices, amid boulder outcroppings, and in dense underbrush.  They range as far as 30 miles from their dens and eat as much as 12 pounds of prey per day — from rabbit to deer. 

With western populations increasing, wildlife biologists conjecture that individual lions may be dispersing eastward.  Catamounts have been spotted in New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia and in a few parts of New England, but a confirmed sighting does not necessarily mean that the animal has taken up residence. 

Douglas Blodgett, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, says “40 to 50 sightings” of catamounts are reported in Vermont each year. “But we still don’t have tangible, solid evidence, such as scat, prey caches or dead mountain lions.  There is no evidence of a viable catamount population in Vermont.”

Blodgett, however, keeps an open mind.  “On occasion, some of the sightings are very credible,” he says. “These sightings could be explained by the exotic pet trade, which is ubiquitous in the United States.  It’s not beyond belief that some of these animals could have been purchased and escaped.”

Still, a mature mountain lion and two cubs apparently were sighted in Craftsbury, Vt., during the winter of 1993-‘94.  Their scat contained fur that Fish & Wildlife officials determined, through microscopic analysis, to be that of a catamount.

“There is no definitive proof of mountain lions in New Hampshire (either), says Mark Ellingwood, a wildlife biologist with that state’s Fish and Game Department.  “DNA analysis of scat and hair samples have all been negative … mostly bobcats,” he says. 

Sounding like a detective, Ellingwood says: “We look for patterns in the evidence and look forward to receiving any evidence, particularly physical evidence.  I have spoken to some very knowledgeable and very competent people who say they’ve seen mountain lions.”

Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reports tracks, droppings and fur from catamounts in that state and neighboring New Brunswick.  In 1997, Massachusetts biologists found scat near the Quabbin Reservoir.  DNA analysis proved it was from a mountain lion, but some officials suspect it was a domesticated animal that had escaped. 

So the search continues.  If Sherlock Holmes were sleuthing the mountain lion today, he might doggedly turn to his sidekick and say, “Come Watson, come!  The game is a … paw.”

Michael J. Caduto is an author, ecologist and storyteller, who lives in Chester, Vermont.

 
Discussion
  1. Jay Harris → in Dorset VT
    Jan 04, 2010

    I had a catamount on my property in 2004. It was during daylight hours and I watched it from inside my house for about 5 minutes until it returned to the forest. I’m in the woods a lot as a fishing guide…etc. Definitely a catamount. I compare its size to larger than my border collie but smaller than my St. Bernard, probably 110 lbs. I recently (12/18/09) came home to find fresh prints of this animal. I have pictures of the print. When I make a fist, that is the size of this print. Please contact me for the picture or any info about this amazing creature.

  2. T → in VT
    May 18, 2010

    Hi Jay,
    I am interested in your story about the cougar(s). I am doing an independent study of alleged sightings of which many are from your general area. Please email me at CataMissionVT@gmail.com so I can get additional info for my database.
    I saw a cougar cub in Belvidere, Vt in April 2005 and have been interested in them ever since. 
    Looking forward to hearing from you!
    Teri

  3. Deanna McLellan → in West Rutland
    Jun 06, 2010

    We were on our way home from Manchester to West Rutland, closer to Danby than Dorset on route 7 when a large animal ran across the road in front of us.  I had quite long legs, a long tail and its head looked like a cat.  In doing an internet search, the closest thing I could find was a catamount.

  4. Ewa M. Seiler → in Passumpsic
    Oct 24, 2010

    Today in Passumpsic, Vermont I saw a catamount!!! It was about 7.30 am. My dog has been going wild sniffling and growling for days. I took some pics, but they are not too good.

  5. jack → in Braintree,mass
    Nov 22, 2010

    I hunt up in Walden ,Near Coles Pond up on Stannard Mountain and one of the residents there, an accomplished woodsman,hunter and logger has sighted them several times in the area.  He stated that he was with his mother and saw one in a field on Noyestar road.  He was in a clearcut with his machine in a very remote area and has seen one.

  6. Mike Cyr - Surveyor → in Madawaska, Maine
    Jan 06, 2011

    I saw what I think was a mountain lion today in the deep woods of Extreme Northern Maine.  I have pictures of its paw prints and picked up a frozen scat which could possibly prove what it was.  i will attempt to get the scat to someone who knows how to identify this amazing creature.

  7. Jon Wright → in Vermont
    Jan 07, 2011

    I would be interested in any photos or recent stories.  I have grown up in Southern Vermont and have heard three credible stories of either catamount sightings or prey cache in the last 5 years.  I now live in Northern Vermont and being an avid woodsman and hunter I hope to see there return soon.

  8. William Mayo → in Bill Mayo in Franklin Vermont
    Jan 21, 2011

    While at the Sportsman Show in Essex this past week, having a
    conversation with a game biologist, we were approached by a friend
    carrying a folder. He was excited to open it up to show us an amazingly clear photo of a catamount taken by his wife from their camp window in Belvedere. There is no mistake, it is the real deal, a picture of a young catamount, perhaps a female, as it stopped along the wood line. I’m not sure what the next step will be. The Vermont
    Fish and Wildlife are on board and it is just a matter of time before
    the photo is released and made public.

  9. Bill T Smith → in Barnard Vermont
    Mar 03, 2011

    does anyone have more information on exactly where Alexander Cromwell shot the Catamount in Barnard?

  10. Carol L. → in Baltimore, Vermont
    Mar 04, 2011

    I live on Hawks Mountain in Baltimore.Last year after losing a fair number of chickens, I noticed a large cat lumber over a nearby wall. I grew up in Northern Vt where I had seen bob cats.  This was not.  It was larger, hunger closer to the ground and was tawny colored not speckled on the legs. I called FWS, and was told it most be a bob cat.  No. The cat took more than 5-6 chickens and left carcasses nearby, picked clean.  What I saw certainly resembled what I thought was a catamount until I was told they no longer exist.  Carol

  11. Jason Croteau → in Molly's Pond West Danville, VT
    Mar 12, 2011

    I saw a catamount in the field near Molly’s pond on the left side.  1:00 PM on 3/12/2011

  12. Betty Sue → in Rte. 100 & Penny Ave., Stratton, VT
    Mar 13, 2011

    March 1, 2011- My husband and son were driving north on Rte. 100 just after midnight.  As they were approaching the Penny Ave. intersection, they both saw about 100 feet in front of them, a tan colored, very, very, large muscular cat, with a long tail run from Penny Ave. across Rte. 100, then bounding up and over the snowbank, into the forest.  Once they arrived home, they researched all different types of cats in this region.  The only one matching the cat they saw was the Catamount.
    My husband has always been skeptical of the reported sightings.  He now knows catamounts exist in Vermont. But, he has no desire to report the sighting.  I, on the other hand believe it is a duty to report the rare sighting of catamounts.

  13. David Sementilli → in georgetown, texas
    Jun 25, 2011

    did anyone get back to Bill Smith re: question on the Barnard, Vt. catamount?

  14. Sarah → in Boston
    Jul 27, 2011

    By the way, the staff of the Memory Clinic in Bennington, Vermont reportedly got a very good look at a Catamount lion recently. He was standing there for a while by all reports, so they got a good look and apparently it looked just like the pics and statues of the catamount.

  15. Sal Bianco Jr → in Long Island, Ny 11752
    Aug 01, 2011

    This past week While trying to ascertain what animal was in our back yard creating havoc. Using a hunting camera that flashes when motion is detected, we got a beautiful picture of a catamount. Not very large, but clearly a beautiful animal checking out our yard.

  16. Geoff → in lake saint catherine, vermont
    Aug 31, 2011

    i saw a catamount right outside my front door two days ago. the beast crouched low and rumbled at me a few times before letting out a blood curdling scream.

  17. Steve Board
    Oct 24, 2011

    I just heard from a neighbor who recently had a Catamount in his yard (He has a plaster cast of the paw print) that a Catamount was hit and killed on the Warren Mtn road. Not sure if on the Warren or Roxbury side. The largest one (7 feet) taken in the state was killed in Roxbury in 1821. ANR doesn’t want to admit there are cats out there, but I’ve had too many sightings around my house in Roxbury to ignore. 4 neighbors so far have seen them over the past 20 years.

  18. Christine Usack → in Monkton,VT
    Oct 30, 2011

    This morning at 11:00, I noticed something sitting out in the yard bordering the woods on the property. I grabbed my binoculars and saw what looked like a big brown cat. I had seen the same animal earlier this week around 1p.m. walking across our driveway, which is 3/10 of a mile back into the woods. This same animal was spotted in the woods near our house in August around 6:30 p.m. 
    Today I was able to see the face in the binoculars and saw white around the chin, and as it walked away saw the long tail. It was brown/tan in color and definitely over 100 lbs.
    Catamount???

  19. Meghan → in Corinth, VT
    Oct 31, 2011

    Hi Christine. If you’re able to get a photo of what you are seeing, email it to me and I’ll see if we can get an ID for you. meghan@northernwoodlands.org

    Thanks.

  20. Leslie Bashaw → in Milton, VT
    Nov 25, 2011

    Driving home a couple weeks ago, just as light was fading into dusk, we saw an unusual wild creature flash across the road and into the woods toward the ravine on one side of our street.  It was tawny yellowish, long and thin, perhaps ‘ropey’ is the best word to describe it, with a long rope-like tail.  Just before it reached the woods, it swiveled its head to look directly at us—a cat-like but almost human looking face.  Very startling. 
      Having spent much time as a kid and young adult in the then undeveloped central Adirondacks, I know this was no bobcat! A neighbor has spoken about a fisher cat that has frequented our area, but no—this was not that.  We have wildlife corridors in our area connecting to some larger tracts—I’m thinking this youngish animal was passing through (and very quickly, at that!).

  21. Wendi Leiby → in Spofford, NH
    Feb 05, 2012

    My husband just called me from work (in Putney, VT) awhile ago and told me that a big huge headed tan cat just walked in front of him (outside) about 6 feet away from him. This was about midnight. I asked him if it was a house cat and he said, “No. It was about 4 to 5 times bigger than any house cat he had ever seen.” I asked him if it was over 50 pounds and he said, “Well over that.” I asked him if it had stripes or a long tail or pointy ears? He said, “I don’t know I was more worried about it attacking me than whether or not it had pointy ears and a long tail, But it did not have stripes.” I said do you think it was a mountain lion? He said, “I don’t know. But what it wasn’t was a tame domestic cat. It looked wild! But it just walked past me and down by the woods.” He then told me that they just had a new early calf born in the barn that night and that they have chickens all around up there. I told him to be careful and to watch his back cause that is how they attack. He said he was staying inside now for the rest of the night and would be very careful if he goes outside.  So then I took a photo of a mountain lion online and sent it to him on his cell phone. He said that is exactly what it looked like. He said that he is sooo glad the moon is out and so bright tonight.  So I guess no matter what the fish and game dept says, there are mountain lions in VT. I also saw one when I was a child in Marlboro, VT but my Dad said I was seeing things. The one I saw was all black. And it was at least 2 ft tall, I could see his back well over the uncut hay in the field. It walked along the edge of the woods and then into the woods across the road from my house. I know what house cats look like and this was huge and muscular. Like a panther. This was 40 years ago and I still have never forgotten even when I have been out in the woods hunting I always look for tracks. And have seen many small bobcat tracks but no big cat tracks yet. Weird. It is like they are a ghost. Tonight there was no tracks because there is no snow and the ground is frozen. So no evidence this time either. I would love to see photo’s of any that anyone has taken of them in VT. Send them to wsmile1@yahoo.com Thanks…

  22. Karin Marks → in North Troy Vermont
    Apr 14, 2012

    Looking out about 75 - 100 yards from our deck, we saw a tawny coloured cat with quite heavy fur about the size of a small German Shepherd. He had pointed upright ears and was just lying in among the trees at the edge of the forest. We watched him for about 15 minutes (sadly we had no camera). He got up and turned around and lay down again a few times and then slowly meandered back into the woods.

    The photos I see of Catamounts seem sleeker. Are there other mountain cats that have tawny colored fur which are not quite so sleek?

  23. Katelyn → in Littleton NH
    Jul 03, 2012

    Never would I have thought that a walk on my lunch break at work would bring me to this - spotted a catamount for certain. Of all places in Littleton NH. Right near Remick Park in the woods out back at the end of Pine Hill Road. Reported this to FIsh & Game.

  24. Chess Brownell → in Stowe, VT
    Aug 28, 2012

    This morning around 11:30, I spotted what looked like a catamount cub run across my field.  It was an interesting tawny color with a very long tail and a lopey run that was definitely not that of a house cat.  I’m located near some state land and Cottonbrook Reservoir.

  25. Chess Brownell → in Stowe, VT
    Aug 30, 2012

    Have to retract my earlier comment!  Sorry to report that what I saw Tues morning was not a catamount cub, but a fox suffering from mange.  The practically hairless fox had been terrorizing local chicken coops and was caught in a local barn.

  26. Kara Bradford → in West Addison, VT
    Sep 06, 2012

    I was just driving home from work w/my 2 year old son.  About an 1/8th of a mile from my house I saw what looked like a Mountain Lion or Catamount.  After looking online I see that it is said that Catamounts are extinct in Vermont.  What I saw looked like it was the size of a medium dog.  It had flat fur, like a boxer dog and it was tan.  The head looked like a female lion.  I live in a very rural area surrounded by corn and soy bean fields.  The cat walked across the road from a corn field and stopped in the road when I slowed down.  It jumped into a ditch and into another corn field.  It was only a few feet in front of me and I know it wasn’t a bobcat.  Could it have been a Catamount?

  27. dave → in corinth
    Sep 10, 2012

    Are you 100% sure it wasn’t a bobcat, Kara? The size sounds bobcatty, as does the hair color. Many eastern bobcats are very tawny colored; if the belly fur is obscured, they may not appear spotted at all.

    Check out the photo gallery at the end of this article:

    http://northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/woods-ghost-bobcats-on-a-comeback1/

    At a quick glance, the 4th pic from the end looks just like a lion on the plains of africa (or a catamount in someone’s backyard) to me.

  28. GINGER ARCHER → in East Poultney, Vermont
    Sep 21, 2012

    Well, I am definitely sure that I saw a catamount the beginning of this week. To be exact, it was on Monday,Sept.17,2012 at 11:30 am. I was sweeping leaves on my back deck which overlooks a meadow and brook which flows thru my back yard. The phone rang and I stopped raking to answer. My daughter from San Fran was calling. I was literally leaning on the deck railing and speaking to her. All of a sudden, I heard a movement in the woods and looked over to see this catamount walk gingerly from the meadow across my bottom lawn that parallels the brook. I told my daughter what I was seeing. The catamount was about 3feet long,perfect girth size,head and face and ears I was totally able to idenify this catamount. My daughter said for me to make a noise to see what he would do. I made a sound and he stopped, looked up the hill at me, then immediately jumped the brook without touching the water and walked up from the water bank into the woods. I was thrilled to see this and called my neighbors and farmers on my road to let them know. Quite an experience! Next time I will have the camera ready.

  29. Skye Lilley → in Granville, Vermont
    Nov 14, 2012

    I just saw a catamount outside my home in Granville! We’re located way out in the boonies on a back road kind of behind Rochester near the Green Mountain National Forest. My German Shepherd, who normally never barks or growls at anything, has been going nuts in the mornings for a few weeks now. I know that we have a lot of bear and moose out here so I usually just yell at her from the other room to stop barking. This morning however she was going exceptionally crazy so I went to the window she was barking out and there it was! It was about 6:20 am and the sun had come up just enough that I could clearly see a HUGE cat. It was moving at a pretty good clip at first but slowed for a moment and looked towards the window the dog and I were looking out before taking off again and darting into the woods across the road. Can’t find any tracks but I’m going to keep looking.

  30. Trevor J. Tebbs → in On the way to Castleton just north of Pawlet
    Dec 01, 2012

    1st December 2012: Coming home from Dorset at 10:30 pm we saw a large catamount run very fast across Route 30.

  31. Sarah Cushing → in Montgomery, VT
    Jan 18, 2013

    Today, January 18, 2013, I was driving east on Rte 105 about a mile outside of the village of Enosburg Falls.  A large cat ran across the road in front of my car.  It ran across the meadow towards the Missisquoi River.  The cat had a smooth reddish brown coat, no spots; a round face, small ears for the head size, and a large, long round tail.  It was about 30 to 36 inches high and about 6 to 7 feet long from head to tail tip with the tail almost the same length as the body.  I would say it weighed more then 80 pounds.  I call the Game warden who said they would take a look at tracks but reminded me that “officially” Catamount are extinct in this state.  I can’t say it was a Catamount, but I will say it was definitely more cougar then anything.  Definitely not Bobcat.  What I saw had no spots, a long tail, shorter ears then a bobcats.

  32. Char Wessing → in North Chittenden, Vermont
    Jan 21, 2013

    I have seen a large cat out in our woods before but never thought about it much until neighbors started talking about seeing a catamount. This was about 11 years ago however there is still reports at the local store and school of siting off and on. 

    My husband just called me from the road and told me that someone just hit a catamount on Route 4 near the Castleton exit. This was this morning at 7:30 on Jan 21, 2013.  He said that it was no house cat or dog or any other excuse people come up with to hide the fact that there are large cats here, it was a catamount. I hope to see it on the news later today.

  33. David Driscoll → in Rosamond, CA
    Mar 23, 2013

    In 2004 I saw a Catamount cross the road in Charlotte, VT. The Cat was approx. 6 feet long from nose to tail. My father also had a sighting in Middlebury. It is difficult to say if these big cats are truly indigenous or released by individuals who cage or have these animals as “pets”. The negative impact to tourism would be sever if indeed big cats do exist in VT. And this is why I think many folks try to debunk claims.

  34. Deborah → in Lyndonville, Vermont
    Apr 24, 2013

    I saw a catamount (mountain lion) yesterday, April 23, 2013 at about 3:15pm when I was going southbound on Interstate 91 and was halfway between Lyndonville and St. Johnsbury, Vermont. This beautiful, very large animal, tawny in color with a long, rope-like tail, was crossing the highway from east to west and as I got closer, I saw it run up a meadow. Upon looking at a picture of a catamount later on, this majestic cat that I saw was definitely a catamount. I noted the mileage marker number and will look at this area again when I am on the highway today to get the exact spot. I have reported my siting to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

     

  35. Babara Sawyer → in Poultney, VT
    Sep 17, 2013

    My neighbor had a catamount in his yard about two weeks ago.  He has a picture of same.  I saw the picture and it definitely was a tawny colored, large cat, with long tail.  How exciting!

  36. Dave → in Corinth, VT
    Sep 18, 2013

    We’d love to see the picture.

  37. Rose St.Hilaire → in formerly of Fairfax VT
    Nov 29, 2013

    In the summer of 2005 we were living in Fairfax, VT The back acreage of our property and the neighbors on both sides of us was all wooded for at least 35 plus acres which also bordered on forest.

    For a series of nights over about a 2 week period in the middle of the night we heard blood curdling screams that ranged from sounding like an extremely loud terrified screams of a woman to almost a maniacal loud almost human like laughing sound.

    There were many reports both official and non official of catamount sightings in Franklin county VT.

    A friend of mine has a relative who lives on French Hill overlooking the City of St.Albans and Lake Champlain. He and his wife say they have seen a catamount on their property over the years. I do not know what these animals sound like and would welcome any feedback. Some people say we heard a fisher cat but the sounds sure sounded like something much larger than a fisher cat. I was familiar with the sounds of foxes and coyotes or coydogs. It did not sound like them either. Does anyone out there have any idea what catamounts sound like?

    \

  38. Paul S
    Feb 27, 2014

    I have a nice picture of a paw print that is close to the size of my hand. I followed the tracks and I have pics of how far apart they are from the ones before. At least 6 foot distance strides. I am on the border near Bennington near the Hoosick River.

  39. Phil Daniels → in Charlestown, NH
    Mar 04, 2014

    March 4th, I saw a catamount today. It was about 30 to 40 lbs I would guess,completely black and the tail was almost as long as the cat. I have seen them a number of times before, but never black and in the winter, it was a joyful sight.

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