Mountain lion

This cat photographed in May 2012 in Alstead has all the characteristics of a mountain lion, also known as a cougar. Three people have reported seeing what they believed was a mountain lion in Sunapee in recent weeks.

SUNAPEE — At least three people in town have reported seeing what they say is a mountain lion, and New Hampshire’s Fish and Game officials aren’t arguing.

“I cannot say they didn’t see a mountain lion,” said Patrick Tate of Fish and Game. “I didn’t see what they saw.”

Officially, there are no mountain lions in New England, although there is a good possibility the big cats could be here, Tate said.

“There’s no evidence of breeding pairs,” he said.

Police Chief David Cahill said the initial report was made more than a week ago by a resident who said she saw a large cat with a long tail.

Many people report having seen a mountain lion when they see smaller bobcats, according to Tate.

“We’ve had bobcats in this area,” Cahill said. “Bobcats are nothing new to our citizens in town. I’ve had one in my yard. This resident said she saw a bigger cat with longer tail.”

Cahill said the woman did not get any pictures of the animal, and there isn’t yet any other evidence, like prints or scat, to verify her claim.

Police put out an alert about the sighting in case it was real.

“So people could take appropriate precautions,” Cahill said.

Since that initial sighting, two more people in town have reported seeing a mountain lion, he said. In addition to bobcats, there are Canada lynx in the state, in the North Country, Tate said. Neither have long tails.

The eastern mountain lion is extinct, leaving the western mountain lion as a possible suspect. Tate and Cahill know it’s not impossible for a western mountain lion to have reached New England.

In 2011, a dead western mountain lion was found in Connecticut after it got hit by a car. That animal had come from South Dakota, traveling more than 1,500 miles to get to New England.

“That opened people’s eyes that a wild western mountain lion being here could be possible,” Tate said.

Tate said there’s still no physical evidence of mountain lions being in New Hampshire since the 1850s. Tate said he would need to see a verifiable photograph of the creature or some sort of other evidence. A high-quality photo of a paw print with ruler or measuring tape to show the scale would help. The state can test scat samples for DNA, he said, but it doesn’t make sense to go to the effort and expense of a DNA test without stronger evidence first, he said.

“You have to have evidence to support it,” he said.

Cahill said there are game cameras set up around town, and that there’s been at least one bobcat spotted on the cameras so far.