Our local newspapers have been reporting that a few residents in Sparta (which is only about 30 minutes from here, and where my son Rob lives) have reported encounters with mountain lions. Most other people are apparently shrugging these reports off as misidentification of a big house cat, or some other excuse. Fish and Wildlife officials haven’t given the final word either way, and so the facts are still in question.
My own opionion? I have no doubt there are mountain lions, not only in Sparta, but probably a lot closer to home. There are thousands of acres of state and national park land here, with plenty of rocky outcroppings, plenty of swamps and almost inpenetrable underbrush. Yes, in New Jersey!
Then, there’s this report of sightings a few years ago. Consider that the cougar (mountain lion, puma, panther) has plenty of prey species in NJ – our deer population has skyrocketed. We have black bears, so why not cougars? While black bears have adapted to human presence, the cougars are probably (and fortunately) staying out of sight. I’d be a lot more concerned about a cougar on my porch than a black bear anyday.
I haven’t seen any cougars in NJ myself, but I was privilaged to see a Florida panther one morning when I was running a banding station in Florida near the Myakka River State Park. The cougar was walking through a field when I arrived in the morning to open nets. Even through the fog, it was obvious this was not a house cat! A few days later, two others also saw the cougar just down the road, this time through a birding scope, so my sighting was sort of validated.
When I lived in Kentucky, adjacent to the Daniel Boone National Forest, the locals would talk about a black panther that had been seen there many times over many years. The spot where the panter reportedly crossed the road was about a mile from our house, and oddly enough, referred to as ‘panther crossing.’ I don’t doubt for a minute there are panthers in that part of Kentucky.
Incidentally, the black panther in KY is not the same as the black panthers of the jungles. The KY panther would be a melanistic cougar, just like the black panthers of the jungles are melanistic jaguars. Either case…very cool!!