Are cougar sightings in Maine for real?
For almost as long as I have been writing about the Maine outdoors, this fascinating question has persisted: “Are there mountain lions (cougars) in Maine?”
In a way, the elusive and mysterious cougar has become somewhat of a Maine folklore icon, the Maine equivalent of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest. Anybody who spends time in the outdoors and enjoys the pure anticipation of sighting wild animals, has to be intrigued by the mere idea that there might be a real mountain lion around the next corner on a woods road, or over there along the edge of that meandering dead water.
I have always thought that Bigfoot lore was a stretch. But, face it, the likely presence of a tawny, long-tailed cougar in the Maine woods is far more plausible than a hairy, 10-foot man-ape leaving huge footprints in the Tillamook State Forest of Oregon.
The Maine cougar question has become even more alluring over time because of the stark contrast between the views of the scientific community and the general public. State and Federal wildlife officials insist: “No known cougar populations exist in Maine.” Although Maine once had a cougar population, they have long been officially listed as extirpated. Wildlife spokesmen say that, if cougars existed here, we would have trapped one by now, or killed one on the highway.
On the other hand, anecdotal cougar-sighting reports by laymen have been on the upswing. And this doesn’t seem to jibe with pronouncements from officialdom. Last month the Northwoods Sporting Journal invited readers to share their mountain-lion sighting reports. The monthly outdoor magazine received more than 20 cougar-sighting accounts from readers, and published some of them. Witnesses ranged from loggers, trappers and hunters to housewives and fall leaf peepers. Personal interviews suggested that witnesses seemed credible, rational and sincere. All but one reported seeing a large, long-tailed sandy or tawny-colored cat. This past winter in Lubec the town was abuzz with cougar sightings reports. Reporter Karen Holmes recounted in the Quoddy Tides more than a half dozen cougar sightings by Lubec area residents!
One witness, a retired California Fish and Game biologist who worked with mountain lions on the West coast and now has a camp near West Grand Lake, says that he saw a black mountain lion not far from West Grand Lake. He saw it last summer at a distance of about 15 feet before it bound off. This man’s credentials are solid. He and a deer hunting buddy have seen a similar critter two other times during deer hunts in the Molunkus area.
Howard Tomlin, an 82-year-old lifetime trapper from Topsfield, may be the first witness to capture an image on a trail camera. Tomlin’s cat tripped the trail camera shutter last September. Tomlin says that a biologist dismissed the image as that of a lynx. As is invariably the case, the animal image is grainy and marginal. This animal in Tomlin’s photo seems to have a long tail, however.
What do you think?
The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com. or at www.sportingjournal.com. Contact email is: firstname.lastname@example.org