Letting the cat out of the bag

Notes from the North Woods

Eastern cougars were listed as Endangered Species in 1973, however in March 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a change of status for the big cats when agency biologists requested cougars be removed from the Endangered Species list. However, the request was not celebrated as a success, since the change meant eastern cougar was officially declared extinct.

Although stories continued to circulate about cougars lurking about the Great North Woods, it was expected the official USF&W announcement would finally put an end to such unsubstantiated reports. Eventually, even the few remaining cats were eventually deemed ghosts when DNA analysis revealed the eastern cougar subspecies had actually been extinct in 1938, when the last wild cougar was taken in Maine.

Apparently, the announcement made it safe for people to again travel into the deeps woods. Safe travel was all but assured until an unusual event occurred in the winter of 2010, when a lone, male cougar established a den in the Adirondack mountains, near Bolton Landing, NY.

Coincidently, the big cat's den happened to be located in the backyard of a retired NYS Environmental Conservation Officer, who promptly notified the department’s biologists of his find. A decision was made to keep the entire incident under wraps, especially after the department had labeled a recent rash of cougar sightings as unsubstantiated.

Although scat and hair samples were eventually collected, the department made no attempt to place a radio collar on the animal. In fact, the department did not even acknowledge the presence of the cougar in their former employee’s backyard, since they certainly didn’t want visitors or sightseers snooping around and disturbing the animal.

In the spring of 2011, the young, lonely, love sick lion left its den to continue the search for a mate. Finally, after journeying over 1,500 miles from the Black Hills of South Dakota, the story came to a tragic conclusion on the Wilbur Cross Parkway near Greenwich, Connecticut, when the long tailed cat was hit by a car and killed, on June 11, 2011. The incident continued to fuel further tales and it posed many questions. Although cougars were supposedly extirpated from the region by the late 1800’s, was this lone male specimen the only cougar that wandered through the Adirondacks over the last century?

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net.

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