Mountain lion sightings are topic of discussion at recent lecture

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Tolland - posted Fri., Jul. 8, 2011
A mountain lion, up close. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Are there mountain lions in Connecticut? It depends on who you ask.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has claimed for years that there is no native population in the state, and the eastern mountain lion has reportedly been declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Yet sightings of these elusive big cats have been on the increase in New England, and a June report of a mountain lion being fatally struck by a car on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford has only increased speculation.

On Thursday, July 7, at the Tolland High School auditorium, mountain lion lecturer Bill Betty provided a 90-minute presentation supporting the presence of mountain lions in Connecticut and the wider New England area. Hosted by Conserving Tolland, the program included a slide show of the big cats in the wild, information on reported sightings throughout the northeast, and how to identify their existence in the area by tracks, scat and deer kills.

“I’m not Marlin Perkins,” said Betty, referring to the zoologist and host of the popular 1963 to 1985 television show, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” “I’m not the cat whisperer. I’m just an ordinary person.”

As an ordinary person, however, Betty said he has seen mountain lions 14 times in the daylight hours, and his curiosity has led him to keep track of their sightings in the east, especially in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Nova Scotia.

Mountain lions, also known as pumas, panthers, catamounts, and cougars, are large wild cats that shelter in thickets, overhangs and fallen trees. With its rolling hills, plentiful cover and 200,000 white-tailed deer, Betty said Connecticut is a “cougar heaven.” Betty said the agile animals can jump up to 30 feet from a stand-still, and they can run up to 43.5 miles per hour at a sprint.

Much of Betty’s presentation went to debunking the Department of Environmental Protection’s claim. At the beginning of the program, he called for a show of hands from the approximately 75-member audience of who had actually seen a mountain lion in Connecticut. Twelve people raised their hands.

“Any child over 5 knows what a mountain lion looks like. Mature, responsible adults can tell the difference between a yellow dog and a 150-pound mountain lion when it is standing right in front of you,” he said.

Betty said the crux of the problem for the DEP is the fact that the mountain lion falls under the Endangered Species Act in Connecticut, and that because of this, state agencies are not allowed to create management plans to control their population. Therefore, he said, it is simply easier to say they don’t exist.

“There are plenty of mountain lions in Connecticut,” said Betty. “In the state of Michigan, [the Department of Natural Resources] went through a 10-year process of denying mountain lions exist there, but eventually they came to their senses. I expect Connecticut and all the other states will come to the same conclusion, as well,” he said.

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