Another View: Are there mountain lions in Connecticut?

This photo provided by the U.S. National Park Service shows a mountain lion, newly dubbed P-79 with a new tracking collar, following its capture in a Simi Valley, Calif., neighborhood early Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019.

For many decades, hosts of individuals have reported seeing mountain lions in Connecticut. But other than the one killed by a motor vehicle on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford on June 11, 2011 — the only confirmed presence of a mountain lion in Connecticut in recent times — none of myriad other reports have any tangible evidence to show that mountain lions actually roam our towns, meadows, or forests. With an abundance of cell phones and motion cameras, no one has ever captured a photo of a mountain lion in Connecticut. No naturalists or walkers have returned from their local travels with the remains of bones or skulls of these creatures. Given the significant number of reported sightings, one would think a photo or a few remains would occasionally turn up.

For over 30 years, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has been tracking reported mountain lion sightings. Every winter, after a fresh snow, DEEP sends out teams into the fields and woods looking for animal tracks. They have NEVER observed a single mountain lion track. In addition, DEEP monitors the birth of deer fawns in our state. Often, they discover that a fawn has been killed for consumption by a predator such as a bear, bobcat, or coyote, but never do they find any evidence that it might have been killed by a mountain lion. Given the significant increase in coyotes and bobcats in the state, could it be that mountain lion sightings are a case of mistaken identity?

Most animals, including wild ones, are opportunistic feeders. Why chase in hot pursuit another wild creature when one can wander into a barn or pasture and find readily available a calf, lamb, colt, kid, or piglet or their parents for the taking. Not a SINGLE one of these domesticated creatures has ever been reported to have been killed by a mountain lion in Connecticut. Moreover, a habit of mountain lions is to store unfinished meals such as a deer carcass in a tree crotch or bury it under a mound of earth; no one has witnessed either activity in Connecticut. Deer hunters regularly sit in blinds often perched in trees, a perfect location for picture taking. Even an animal that might be known for being secretive would have difficultly being aware that a hunter was sitting aloft, observing all creatures passing below.

No hunter has reported being menaced or attacked by a mountain lion. In fact, no one in our state has been killed, injured, or threatened by a mountain lion. Out west, where mountain lions are present, there are confirmed reports of encounters between mountain lions and humans, and in some cases where mountain lions have actually attacked people hiking along trails.

During a February 2019 lecture on mountain lions at the Housatonic Valley High School in Falls Village at which 400 people turned out, when the presenter asked the audience how many had seen a mountain lion in Connecticut, approximately half of the audience raised their hands. Statistically, this would indicate that there is a substantial population of mountain lions in Connecticut. Several years ago, during a Litchfield Hills Audubon Society meeting, one individual reported seeing a mountain lion.

During a coffee break, I approached the person for more information, but he offered very little except to give weight to his reported sighting by noting that a state police officer had also told him that he too had seen one. In this case, he backed his claim with someone with authority — a state policeman, a person with credentials. State police cars are also equipped with cameras. To a local newspaper in a town nearby Bethlehem, an animal control officer reported seeing several mountain lions in town every day, yet no pictures.

One possible way to resolve the question as to whether mountain lions are present in Connecticut would be for DEEP to establish a hunting season on these lions. An alternative to a hunting season would be for animal control officers in Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns to have in their possession several box traps that could capture mountain lions without harming them. When an animal control officer is notified of a reported sighting, he or she can set a box trap in that location and await the results.

It is not the intention of this Op-Ed to impugn the integrity of those who claim to have seen mountain lion in Connecticut but in all fairness to present another point of view on this issue. After all, it has been often stated that there are at least two sides to every story. And one story is good until another one is told.

Connecticut Media Group