Windham Life and Times – November 15, 2019

Catamounts in New England

Puma or cougar or mountain lion or catamount or panther or mountain cat, vintage engraved illustration.

Catamount Rock in Windham NH

With wildlife returning to Southern New Hampshire in abundance can it be long before Catamounts are prowling through our neighborhoods? We are completely overrun by turkeys, coyotes are becoming common, and a pair of bobcats were seen in Westford this past week. The current Yankee Magazine also has an interesting article about the cats. Of course, the fisher cat, the greatest fear of my childhood, thanks to my brother who told me they were going to eat me, is also found here. So what the heck is a “Catamount” anyway?

Morrison tells us in 1883 that, “Wild-cat, Lynx, or Catamount, were once here, but have disappeared with other wild animals as civilization advanced. Periodically the community is startled by the report of the appearance of a lynx or wild-cat, but only at intervals of several years. A catamount was once killed upon a rock in the east side of the town, and the rock is known as “Catamount Rock.” “It is a large circular boulder, and rises some 4 feet above the surface of the ground. It lies in the pasture of L.A. Morrison…”

So what is a catamount? It is basically looks like a panther or cougar and it was once found in New England. According to Helenette Silver, in A History of New Hampshire Game and Furbearers, published by NH Fish and Game in 1957, “The panther. Felis Concolor, is a beast of many names, most frequently referred to in New Hampshire history as catamount, but sometimes known locally as ‘Indian Devil’ or ‘Carcajou,’ under which appellations it is confused with the wolverine, which may never have existed in the state. In other parts of the country it is variously called mountain lion, cougar or puma; the latter name has been generally adopted.”

“The Eastern panther, Felis Concolor cougar, one of the large sub-species was found in New Hampshire at the time of settlement, but has been regarded as extinct by most authorities for many years. It was a slender, long-tailed cat, probably tawny or light brown in color. Preble (1942) indicates that the color of the New Hampshire panthers was unknown, but a specimen now located in the Woodman Museum in Dover, N.H. is of a very light fawn shade without markings. The inscription reads, ‘This Felis Cougar, sometimes called Mountain Lion, was killed in Lee, N.H. by Wm. Chapman of Newmarket N.H. who was hunting in the fall of 1853 accompanied by his dogs.’ A better example of the Eastern panther is that taken at Wardsboro Vt., in 1875, and now in the possession of the Boston Museum of Science. This specimen is somewhat darker than the Woodman Museum panther— practically the same color as a deer—lighter below, blending to a reddish brown along the backbone…”The Vermont panther was smaller, weighing 110 pounds…”  According to Silver they remained in New Hampshire until the 1880’s.”

So are there live cougars in New England today? Well as a mater of fact, yes and no. According to the Massachusetts Fish and Game, there is evidence of Mountain Lions returning to New England.  Confirmed Reports of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts: “There are two records of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts that meet the evidence requirements for a Class 1 or a Class 2 Confirmation. MassWildlife cannot investigate or confirm Mountain Lion reports without any evidence. Case 1: In April 1997, experienced tracker John McCarter found scat near a beaver carcass at the Quabbin Reservation. McCarter sent a sample to Dr. George Amato of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York and Dr. Melanie Culver of the University of Maryland. Both labs confirmed the sample came from a Mountain lion. MassWildlife and the Cougar Network have accepted this record as a Class 1 Confirmation. Case 2: In March 2011, DCR forester Steve Ward photographed a track trail in the snow near the Gate 8 boat launch area of Quabbin were fresh and well photographed. Tracking experts Paul Rezendes, Charles Worsham, George Leoniak, and Dr. Mark Elbroch examined the photos. These tracks may have been made by the Mountain Lion documented in Greenwich, Connecticut on June 5, 2011, and killed by a vehicle six days later.”

“The Connecticut Mountain Lion is the best documented wild Mountain Lion in New England. The young adult male was killed by an SUV on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford, Connecticut on June 11, 2011. Someone photographed the animal at the Brunswick School on Greenwich, Connecticut about 40 miles away on June 5th. The USDA’s Forest Service Wildlife Genetics Laboratory found that the animal came from South Dakota. This mountain lion was documented by DNA samples from Minnesota and Wisconsin between December 2009 and early 2010.  Sighting of this animal also occurred in Michigan and New York.  Over a period of a year and a half, this Mountain Lion left DNA evidence in at least four states. Mountain lions don’t usually travel more than 100 miles from where they are born. Yet this young male traveled about 1,800 miles. This is the longest documented travel distance of a Mountain Lion.”

New Hampshire Fish and game has the following statement on their website: “Despite numerous reports, the NH Fish and Game Department continues to have no physical evidence of mountain lion presence in the state. The species that once inhabited the Northeast, known as the eastern mountain lion, is now extinct. However, dispersing western mountain lions have left evidence as close as Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.” Want to report a Mountain Lion sighting in New Hampshire? Contact the Wildlife Division at (603) 271-2461 or to request an observation report form.

Do you want to see real, living mountain lions that do exist in New Hampshire.  You can see two of them at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness NH. At I have included a link to the interesting publication by Mass Wildlife called: Mountain Lions in Massachusetts: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction, by Tom French.


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