Has your pet cougar ever escaped from home? If so, please, do let me know …
And the question is this: Does anyone know someone, or has anyone ever heard of anybody, who has ever kept a mountain lion (cougar, catamount) as a pet? We're not talking about circuses, zoos or other commercial ventures here. We're talking about cougars as pets — i.e., in a home, on a leash, in a backyard enclosure, or even hidden away in someone's barn.
Why ask the question again? Well, the last time around it was at a slower time of year in terms of visitors. Secondly, I'm not swell-headed enough to think that all of the people out there read this column all of the time, so it's worth another shot.
Also, wildlife biologist Patrick Tate is the lucky soul on whom Fish and Game has bestowed the honor of being (along with his many other responsibilities) the person to whom cougar questions and reports are directed, which means that if someone contacts Fish and Game with anything about mountain lions, such as, “Hey, I saw this huge tan-colored cat with a very long tail,” Pat's going to get it.
As it so happens, Pat and I attended a recent session on coyote management issues at the Forest Society's headquarters in Concord. He quickly found himself, at the end of the session, talking not about coyotes but cougars. And the “escaped or abandoned pet” issue immediately came to the fore.
There are things that need saying before we get back to the question this column poses. One is that a large percentage of cougar reports turn out to be sightings of something else. However, there are certain carefully constructed questions one can pose that will quickly winnow out the wheat (the good sightings) from the chaff (the well-meant, but erroneous ones). Pat has a set of such questions, I have my own set and I'd bet that just about every biologist and conservation officer in the state has one, as well.
The second is that a certain and steady number of mountain lion sighting reports turn out to be, in my book and the books of others far more learned than I am, irrefutable. Translated and parsed down to brass tacks, this means that the person, without doubt, saw a mountain lion. This leaves the only really interesting part of the entire cougar scenario, which is from where the animal came.
Was it the result of animal rights activist Ninja Turtle warriors using black helicopters in the dead of night to release cougars live-trapped in the west, out of frustration with waiting for government bureaucracy to right the old persecuted-to-extinction wrong? Was it a “disperser,” or scouting cougar, from west of the Mississippi, roaming in search of new (read that “ancestral”) territory, as may have been the case with the South Dakota mountain lion killed in the road in Connecticut? Was it (and this admittedly is a stretch) a descendant of the original Eastern cougar, remnants of which might just possibly have hung on in northern Maine and the Maritimes?
Or was it, as Officialdom almost claims, an escaped pet?
Well, to have escaped or released pets (released on account of spraying the upholstery, tearing up the furniture or threatening to kill the owners), you have to have pets to begin with.
And in this category I will claim, bereft of any university diploma on any subject whatever, to be an expert, because let me tell you, after far better than four decades in the news business I can say, hands down, that (a) there's no way in hell anyone could keep a pet mountain lion without someone, more likely hundreds of someones, knowing about it — family, friends, neighbors, the town cops — and (b) there's no way such a thing would ever have been kept out of the papers.
So there it is, readers. If you know anything about anyone ever having had a pet cougar (in New Hampshire, please, I don't care about the rest of the world), let me know — and if necessary, I'll keep delicate information confidential.
It would be nice to put this “escaped pet” argument to the test, if not the sword. That would leave, of course, the wandering South Dakota cougar, the pitiful Eastern cougar survivor, and the Ninja Turtle thing still out there, all of which are at least fun thinking about.
John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at email@example.com.
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