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May 23, 2013, 03:59:31 AM
Cougars, mountain lions, pumas, panthers, catamounts, whatever you wish to call them, do not exist east of the Mississippi river. Well, except for south Florida and there's only 50 or so of those. Yes there may have been some sightings in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and yeah there's Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and even Maine and Delaware (yes, even in all three counties of Delaware), oh, and some reports in the tiny state of Rhode Island. But, rest assured, all of these accounts are false. They are either bobcats, house cats or maybe just dogs. Well, there could be a couple of loose cats out there. Most likely these are escaped or dumped exotic animals. We don't keep records of these types of things, but we're sure it's completely explainable this way. Either way, mountain lions do not exist in any state east of the Mississippi (again, except Florida). That's our statement and we're sticking to it.
The above is the typical response you will get from any eastern state on the status of mountain lions from their respective wildlife or Department of Natural Resource officials. They all categorically deny the possibility of any number of cougars populating any state in the east. Despite growing numbers of sightings as well as evidence of sign (tracks, scat, hair, mauled prey) officials still have a list of excuses as long as a mountain lion's tail. Typically the response is a loose exotic pet. OK, so where did it come from? Don't they keep records on who owns these "pets"? No, no, what you saw was a bobcat, common mistake. Why do they always assume that the hunter who has seen bobcats before always mistakes a bobcat for a cougar (or even the person who has never seen either who perfectly describes a cougar from the color down to the long tail...umm, bobcats don't have much of a tail to brag about).
On the flip side of this argument one can agree that despite the numerous sightings in various parts of different states there does not seem to be any large population of these animals in the east. Even with the recent cougar death from a vehicle strike in Connecticut (70 miles from New York City!), most department of natural resource officials use this argument that there is not a strong population established. If cougars existed in strong numbers they would be turning up more and more from vehicle collisions. This argument is partially true, but not a good measuring stick overall of an established population. DNR officials frequently track various animals to keep track of population as well as disease and other factors. These DNR officials are not coming across much in the way of evidence concerning cougars (or are they?).
There are many out there that feel that this denial is part of a larger conspiracy. Conspiracy? About cougars? Apparently many people feel DNR agencies do not want to pay to have to manage cougars as they will instantly become endangered species and that denying their existence (or getting rid of them without our knowledge) keeps them from stretching their budget. Speaking of budgets, let's take that one a step farther. The state makes a killing, no pun intended, on licenses and related items spent on hunting seasons. If a predatory species were introduced (or found its way) into the ecosystem it would cut into the deer population. There is currently over 700,000 estimated deer in Ohio (in 2006, see chart at left for 25 year periods) and no natural predators other than humans (and vehicles). A cougar (or even wolf) population in the state of Ohio would provide many headaches and lost money for DNR folks so their denial is understandable, but is it possible for cougar to exist east of the Mississippi?
Let's consider the possibility: Did cougars once call this area home? Yes. Why are they no longer around? Hunting was the biggest culprit over the last 200 years. Other factors were changing land into farming area and depletion of food sources (mainly deer) in the mid to late 1800's and into the early 1900s. In March of 2011, the eastern cougar was deemed officially extinct.
But, aren't there plenty of deer running around now? In 1904 in the state of Ohio there were no deer. It took a few decades of natural re-growth as well as restocking programs to bring the deer back to Ohio. The same followed suit in a number of neighboring states. Now that the food source has been re-established, doesn't it make sense that a top predator is making progress toward reclaiming its former territory? Another possibility may be because of another predator; the wolf.
Wolves were driven from the U.S. the in many of the same methods as the cougar, but were even more feared as they traveled in packs and consumed more kill than cougar. Wolf populations exist in Canada and extend into Michigan and Minnesota. They were also reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Could these expanding wolf populations be driving cougars to areas of less competition?
There are, of course, other theories about how cougars could be in the eastern states. One theory is that they never really left the states east of the Mississippi. Somehow small collections of these animals avoided detection for decades and are slowly branching in every direction, obviously the supposedly extinct Eastern Cougar (not officially extinct yet in Canada although no specimens have been confirmed). As people sprawl out these animals are in constant search for places to hunt and live in a human-free environment.
A second theory is that they have traveled here from the closest known area of thriving population, western North Dakota. Cougars travel amazing distances in short periods of time, mainly in search of food. Once a cougar is old enough to go it alone he/she must establish their own territory or risk being killed. A cougar may travel 400 miles to establish their own territory and may continue traveling to find other non-established areas. The roaming theory has a major flaw in that it would be extremely difficult for males and females to mate if they were living hundreds of miles apart and would make it nearly impossible to have thriving populations. Then again, male cougars have been known to have territories as large as 300 square miles or more, but females typically have smaller ranges and these ranges frequently overlap. Cougar populations in the west (Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado) have been declared completely recovered, and as animals will spread as far as nature will allow this might just be happening.
Lastly, we could guess that numerous animals escaped or were dumped into the wild and have now somehow bred and created tiny populations. This theory is highly unlikely, but a possibility. Many biologists feel that the Florida panther and eastern cougar as very similar genetically that they should basically be called the North American cougar instead of two distinctions. However, now that the eastern cougar has been declared extinct this theory is out the window. Is the move to put the eastern cougar on extinct status clearing the way to kill off any cougars coming east as an invasive species?
So, what does this have to do with the paranormal? Well, cougars are not paranormal, but they are actually considered cryptids in the state of Ohio (since they supposedly do not exist here) and any sighting interests those who pursue cryptids. Hopefully this cryptid will eventually be confirmed in some eastern states. It's also interesting that a 9 foot long 160 lb+ creature can go undetected. Confirmation of this animal in Ohio and neighboring states may be a victory for Bigfoot researchers everywhere.
Here is a little more insight:
On June 30, 2011, a couple watched what they initially thought was a coyote sunning itself in the early afternoon hours in tall grass behind their home in a rural area outside Canton, Ohio. The man of the house then grabbed binoculars and suddenly realized it was not a coyote or dog, but a large cat. He managed to take photos of the animal, but as experts reviewed them they stated it was nothing more than a house cat. No one from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources would investigate. The couple spotted the animal from 140 yards away with their camera, the cat appears to be half way or more above the grass. The owner of the home estimates the grass to be 18 to 24 inches high, much too high to see a house cat. On July 4, another report of a cougar occurred within miles of this sighting. Since then there have been dozens of reports, although no tracks, scat, or other photos as of this writing.
Is this a lone cat? Possibly, but consider that in late 2008 there were multiple sightings, tracks and hair samples collected of a cougar in Richfield, Ohio. The sightings were about 35 miles away from this year’s sightings, outside of the media there have been dozens of reports of cougar sightings prior to and between these sightings. This story is all too familiar to many communities all over the eastern United States.
Here is a video concerning the 2008 Chicago, Illinois sighting and eventual shooting of a cougar and the cover-up behind the ongoing saga of these animal sightings in Illinois:
*Deer-vehicle collisions cost an average of $2,600 in medical and mechanical costs. In 2003 there were more than 31,000 deer-vehicle collisions reported.
A sustained group of cougars will help naturally cull deer populations year round and hinder deer-vehicle collisions.
Brian D. Parsons is the Director of the Ohio Paranormal Investigation Network and has been investigating ghostly claims since 1996. He has also studied under the MUFON Field Investigator's Manual for the various aspects of UFO investigations and has been a freelance cryptid researcher and investigator studying various cases in Ohio and western Pennsylvania.