The catamount, or Eastern mountain lion, is believed to have become extinct in the state during the mid-1800s. A catamount shot in Barnard in 1881, now on display in Montpelier, is claimed to be the “last” of the cats taken in Vermont. But catamount sightings have persisted throughout the state since their reported demise, and the cats have attained an almost legendary status in Vermont lore. For many years, state wildlife biologists contended there were no mountain lions in the state, and attributed the sightings to either mistaken identity or flights of fancy. More recently, the state has recognized the possibility that people really are seeing the cats, but suggests they may be escaped “pets,” mountain lions that have been held in captivity, legally or illegally.
There have been numerous signs and sightings in southern Vermont and in Deerfield Valley towns, including Woodford, Searsburg, Halifax, and Wilmington. In his talk, Metcalfe will discuss sightings across Vermont, how the state evaluates them, and take a look at some of the possible explanations for the sightings.
Metcalfe says legitimate sightings of mountain lions in Vermont are a possibility. “There’s a history of anecdotal stories,” he says, “and a mountain lion was killed (struck by a car) in Connecticut in 2011.”
DNA testing indicated that the mountain lion killed on a Connecticut highway had walked to the area from a known population of mountain lions in South Dakota. “It left evidence all the way across the country; people took photographs, and there were other signs.”
Metcalfe notes there is also a known population of mountain lions in Florida, and confirmed physical evidence of mountain lions in Quebec and New Brunswick. “We know they can travel long distances, so if there are mountain lions in Quebec, they can certainly travel to Vermont.”
But although some of the sightings in Vermont may have been made by people regarded as credible witnesses, Metcalfe says no physical evidence has been offered that would indicate a population of mountain lions living in the state. “There are a lot of credible reports, but there’s a lack of evidence to confirm them,” he says. “In Florida, where there’s a population of between 80 and 120 mountain lions, more than 60 were hit on the state’s roads between 1975 and 2010.”
The free program will be held at the museum, located at the Hogback Mountain overlook on Route 9, at 4 pm on Saturday, August 24. Contact the museum for more information at (802) 464-0048.