Sunday, November 24, 2013

Game Warden Files--Cat Tracks

One of the big controversies in New York has been the presence of mountain lions. Are they here or not? Interestingly, the state seems to have gone from "there are none here" to "there is no population," believing that there are some individual cats--either released cats or escaped animals--but no breeding population, something that seems to disappoint no one.

Over my years there were plenty of calls about them. Most often they were calls about "black panthers" which were pretty easily dismissed, usually a little conversation proved them out as fishers, a large member of the weasel family that has cat-like moves. Pretty easy mistake to make, except that there are no black panthers in the north country, period. The only black panthers truly identified are not even cougars, from what I can find.  

Some of the sightings were less certain; but most likely bobcats. Most of the "big cat track" calls I handled were those. There were some, however that weren't so clear and might have been cougars. Some young folks out cross country skiing came across a set of tracks that they'd photographed. The track was fresh and alongside a measurable human footprint; it was pretty big, outside the range of bobcat tracks. One report came from a well known sportsman. His visual description was too good to discount, he knew all the likely other suspects and by process of elimination this was a cougar. One lady invited me to her house to discuss what she'd seen and spent more time qualifying herself and her powers of observation than she did telling me what she'd seen...yeah, that was probably a cougar also. 

The funniest was a guy who stopped me on the street in the village of Northville, flagging me down from his car as we crossed paths. "YOU GOT A GUN?" He almost hollered at me. Well, yes, two or three of them actually, and how might I help him. He told me he'd just seen "A BIG CAT" walking along the bank of Northville's "little lake." 

We both parked at the town hall and he seemed disappointed that I didn't offer him a shotgun or something. I explained that whatever he'd seen, unless it posed a threat to us or the public--spoiled his fun. It was perfect day for tracking, there'd been about an inch or so of damp snow that made a perfect track, so I took a camera to document whatever we found. I had him take me to the spot he'd seen that big cat. Of course I kept a good watch out in case of a cat attack and broke into laughter when we got to the spot of his sighting. There, perfect as can be was a set of kitty cat tracks...and nothing else. My would-be hero was very silent as we walked back to the parking lot. He mumbled a sort of apology, got in his car and left me to my laughter.

For more on panthers, check out
It's pretty good.

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