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Mountain Lions became scarce in the East after a bounty system wiped out most predatory animals. Today, Mountain Lions are found in the mountainous regions of the West. There is also a small population in southern Florida.
Despite this fact, Massachusetts residents continue to report Mountain Lion sightings. It is difficult to know if someone saw a Mountain Lion without any tangible evidence.
Nowadays, many reports include photographic evidence, thanks to camera phones and trail cameras. There have been only two cases where evidence supports the presence of a Mountain Lion in Massachusetts. All other reports of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts have turned out to be other animals.
There are always rumors about what state fish and wildlife agencies in the eastern United States know about Mountain Lions. None of the rumors are true. If Mountain Lions returned to Massachusetts, there is no need to update current forest management practices. Further, it is already illegal to kill a Mountain Lion in Massachusetts. State law protects all species unless otherwise noted.
Now and then MassWildlife gets a report with a photo of a Mountain Lion. All these photos were taken in a state other than Massachusetts. Some of these photos have taken on urban legend status.
Mistaken reports of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts are most commonly Bobcats. Many people do not realize how large a grown Bobcat is. An adult male bobcat can reach four feet in length and 35-40 pounds. Also, Bobcats are spreading into areas in which they have not been seen before. Coyotes have also been mistaken for Mountain Lions. People even report House Cats as Mountain Lions in a surprising number of cases. In certain situations, the similarities in the silhouette are remarkable.
MassWildlife uses evidence-based criteria for confirming Mountain Lion reports. MassWildlife bases the criteria on a system created by The Cougar Network. MassWildlife recognizes two classes of Mountain Lion confirmation:
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 MassWildlife can confirm the location. 3. DNA evidence from hair, scat, etc. is available for analysis 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.
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.
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
In March 2011, DCR forester Steve Ward photographed a track trail in the snow near the Gate 8 boat launch area of Quabbin Reservoir. These tracks 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
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.
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