BEDFORD - Teachers are on alert after students were forced inside from recess following a fisher cat sighting at a school playground this week.
No one was injured and the animal did not attack anyone, but school officials contacted the Bedford animal control officer and New Hampshire Fish and Game Department following Wednesday's incident at McKelvie Intermediate School.
According to Principal Michael Fournier, about 150 fifth-graders were playing outside at recess around 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday when a teacher observed the fisher, a member of the weasel family, near the swingset.
The students were ordered to line up and promptly head indoors for recess, said Fournier, adding none of the children were threatened by the animal.
"This is not the first time we have run into animals on school grounds, but I was particularly nervous about the fisher cat because they are pretty elusive animals and it seemed unusual that it wasn't frightened by the kids," Fournier said on Thursday.
Conservation Officer Chris Bison of New Hampshire Fish and Game responded to the school and traced the animal's tracks.
"It is odd to have fishers out and about. They generally go in the other direction and don't want anything to do with people," said Bison. "It seemed like a real big fluke situation."
However, Bison noted that the school's surroundings are the perfect habitat for fishers, as there is a small brook and stream directly next to the property. Although the playground is fenced in, Bison said the fisher could have already been inside of the playground area before students were let out for recess, and then it may have felt cornered - especially if children were throwing snowballs.
"The school is on alert now, and teachers have been asked to walk around the perimeter of the building before sending children outside," he said.
Fishers are forest-dwelling animals that are usually the size of domestic cats, and are known for preying on porcupines. They have a bad reputation for sometimes attacking other cats, bobcats and lynx.
Steven Paul, the town's animal control officer, also responded to the school following Wednesday's sighting, but said he referred the situation to New Hampshire Fish and Game.
"There wasn't much I could do at the time," said Paul.
He was back at the school Thursday morning with local police to ensure students were safe when they arrived prior to the start of the school day.
"It is probably just a random sighting," said Fournier, adding extra steps are being taken to ensure the safety of students.
Bison said fishers do not typically act out unless they are harassed or provoked. If a fisher is spotted, he recommended that people stand back and simply observe the animal, warning people to never pet or feed a firstname.lastname@example.org