Because the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is a science-based agency, it uses evidence-based criteria for confirming Mountain Lion reports. The criteria are based on a system developed by The Cougar Network. Two classes of Mountain Lion confirmation are recognized:
Class 1 Confirmations - evidence requirements:
1. The body of a dead mountain Lion, or a live wild-captured animal, is available for examination.
2. Photos, including video, in which a Mountain Lion can be identified and the location can be confirmed.
3. DNA evidence from hair, scat, etc. is available for analysis, preferably by two independent labs.
Class 2 Confirmations - evidence requirements:
1. Track sets, or photos of track sets, verified by two qualified professionals approved by MassWildlife.
2. Other tangible physical evidence verified by two qualified professionals approved by MassWildlife (i.e., prey carcasses, microscopic hair recognition, etc.).
Confirmed Reports of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts
Although there have been many reports, there are two records of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts that meet the evidence requirement for a Class1 or a Class 2 Confirmation (see above). To date, other reports accompanied by evidence have either been determined to be another species of animal, or have been impossible to identify due to the poor quality of evidence. Mountain Lion reports without any form of evidence cannot be investigated or confirmed.
In April 1997, John McCarter, an experienced tracker who had been trained by Paul Rezendes, found scat near a cached beaver carcass at the Quabbin Reservation. The beaver was partially eaten and covered with brush. A scat sample was sent to Dr. George Amato of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York and Dr. Melanie Culver of the University of Maryland for DNA analysis. Both labs confirmed that the sample came from a Mountain lion. This record has been accepted by MassWildlife and the Cougar Network as a Class 1 Confirmation. At that time the technology was not available for the lab to do a DNA profile to determine a more precise geographic origin of this animal.
On March 4, 2011, Steve Ward, a DCR forester, photographed a track trail in the snow crossing a frozen cove near the Gate 8 boat launch area of Quabbin Reservoir. These tracks were fresh and well photographed. The photos were examined by tracking experts Paul Rezendes of MA, Charles Worsham of VA, George Leoniak of VT, and Dr. Mark Elbroch of WY. These tracks may well have been made by the young male Mountain Lion that was documented by DNA at Lake George, New York on December 16, 2010 and next by DNA and photos in Greenwich, CT on June 5, 2011, and killed by a vehicle six days later (See more below).
The "Connecticut Mountain Lion"
By far, the best documented wild Mountain Lion in New England was a young adult male (140 pounds) struck and killed by an SUV on the Wilbur Cross Parkway (Route 15) in Milford, Connecticut on June 11, 2011. The animal had been photographed on the campus of the Brunswick School, in Greenwich, Connecticut about 40 miles away on June 5th. An analysis of this cat’s DNA by USDA’s Forest Service Wildlife Genetics Laboratory in Missoula, Montana revealed that it had originated in South Dakota. Amazingly, this same animal was documented by DNA samples from one site in Minnesota and three locations in Wisconsin from December 11, 2009 through early 2010. At least six sightings of what is believed to be this same animal were recorded from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Later it was documented in Lake George, New York on December 16, 2010. Over a period of a year and a half, this Mountain Lion left DNA evidence (in the form of hair or scat) in at least four states, as well as identifiable tracks, trail camera photos, other photos, and finally, a body.
While mountain lions don’t usually disperse more than 100 miles from where they are born, this young male traveled about 1,800 miles. This is the longest documented dispersal distance of a Mountain Lion. The previous record was set by another young Mountain Lion from South Dakota that was killed in Chicago in 2008 after travelling over 1,000 miles.