Stop! Panther!

Sorry, no photo today. I wasn’t quick enough. As soon as I saw the panther I reached for my pocket and yelled for Holly to stop the van but by the time my camera was out and I had started to open the door the cat was bounding across the field. But let’s backup a moment…

Pumas, Panthers, cougars, catamounts, mountain lions and ghosts don’t exist in Vermont, according to the officials at the Vermont Department of Wildlife. This is despite the photographs, foot prints, scat and many sightings each year. According to the state the big cats were hunted to extinction over a hundred years ago. Apparently the cat’s don’t know that.

Over the past 20 years we’ve had several encounters a year with the cougars. Every single time we have seen them they have appeared to be black. Yet the standard images I have seen are tawny colored. I had assumed it was just the dim light but last fall I got a very clear and close view in the daylight. That big cat was black as night. Today’s view was even better. I even got a clear view of it’s left rear paw as it began moving away from me.

But back to my story… Today as we were headed into town Holly was driving very slowly north on Riddle Pond Road. We were a bit past our Sugar Shack and I was looking in the the north marsh field at the grasses and other plants coming up from our spring seeding. I was listing off the plants I saw from the car. The sun was high at 2:31 pm. The sky was clear. I had my distance glasses on so everything was bright and sharp. Then I saw a black object. It wasn’t a rock. It moved. My gosh! “STOP! Panther!” I yelled to Holly as I grabbed my camera and started to open the door to jump out of the slowly moving car. (Okay, so most monkeys jump away from the lion…)

As Holly brought the car to a hard stop I saw the panther turn, we were now up next to it. the cat was only 35 feet from me right out my window, just on the other side of the stone wall by the road. Without looking back it began bounding across the field towards cover.

Holly turned and looked. She saw the panther too as it made its last two leaps across the rough pasture and into the woods by the marsh. Unlike last year, this time she got a clear view since we were going so slowly looking at the new clear cut.

The panther made six leaps, I counted them, across a distance of about 120′. I watched it clearly in the bright afternoon light for a fraction of a minute. There was no mistaking that large sinuous body or the powerful movements. It was a bit bigger than Hagrid[1, 2] our largest livestock guardian dog – probably about 150 lbs.

We backed up and looked around but it was long gone by then. Maybe it was watching us from the cover of the forest verge. My guess is it had been about to cross the road to go up over Sugar Mountain. We have seen it cross the road in about that same spot twice before.

Government officials say the only way they’ll accept the existence of the catamount is if someone brings in a dead body, DNA, etc. Is it not a crime to kill a member of an extinct species? Still, it does seem like a shame.

So why don’t the Vermont officials admit the big cats are there? Some people have suggested it is because they don’t want to scare off tourists. Yeah, well, you know it is a bummer when a cougar eats one but that happens out in California and Colorado and they still seem to get plenty of visitors every year. Frankly I would think that more exotic wild life might be an attraction. Maybe it would even add a bit of thrill to the leaf peeping tours.

Others have suggested that the government is reluctant to recognize the cats presence in Vermont because they would have to dedicate scarce budget funds to studying and protecting them. Don’t worry, the cats seem to be doing a fine job of protecting themselves.

Time to start accepting that some of the 1,000 or more sightings a year are real. The cats are here and they’re coming out in the daylight.

Outdoors: 69°F/37°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 73°F/71°F

Daily Spark: It is a waste of time objecting to reality.

The government puts the sightings at 50 to 60 a year. I don’t report mine. I know of 20 or 30 people who don’t report theirs either. Why bother. So for every reported sighting there are probably 20 unreported sightings at minimum. In marketing a ratio of 50:1 is a good response rate. That’s 2%. I doubt the government’s doing any better.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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22 Responses to Stop! Panther!

  1. anna says:

    awe wow! you get all the luck! i would give my right eye tooth to see a cougar. i love your postings about the wild life and flowers. you see not just your work but also the beautiful world around you.

  2. Jake C. says:

    Wow!!!! You might not have photos but the story was great and you built the image in my mind! Clicking on your huge dog hagrid pictures was amazing. I have never seen a dog so big. I think I would be quite scared seeing a cat that was bigger than that dog! This monkey here would be rolling up the windows or jumping the other way or something and not thinking about taking pictures or what!!!!!

  3. Marie says:

    Wow! Do you think they live somewhere close, or are they ranging down out of Canada? Would the VDW run DNA on scat if you brought it in, or would they just toss it and tell you it was bobcat or lynx – pretty obvious no one wants to admit they’re there, for whatever reason.

    Thanks for sharing this – your story is as good a a photo for me.

    • I would hope they would run DNA analysis on it but when they were given scat before they ‘lost it’. Odd. One would think they would be very careful with something like that. They seem bound and determined to deny rather than investigate. This is why a lot of people don’t want to bother reporting sightings.

      The cat we see seems to pass through about once every few months. Sometimes we hear it. Sometimes it is foot prints, sometimes scat. Once in a while we see it, although never as clearly and for as long as this time. I wish I had a faster camera and I wish I had had it in my hand but at the time I had been too busy studying the herbage. Before I could even get the camera out I had to undo my seat belt which was blocking my pocket. Ah well, next time. I almost always have my camera with me. Now with the new fields opened up we may see it more often. Before with the woods if it had been in that location we would never have seen it.

  4. Teresa says:

    What a great descriptive essay. We seem to have the same rumors in Iowa. Last winter, someone actually shot one. Now that they can prove one was here, it’s gone. I would love to see one, and only shoot with the camera.

  5. emt training says:

    Wow this is great.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

  6. Glenn Loud says:

    Most NE states will not recognize puma’s being here. One thought is because of the endangered species act, and it may tie up most of the land in NE, as Habitat.
    Myself I saw a Puma in the 70’s in my hometown, it was a buff color one, crossing the road at the local Chicken farm. (western ma)

  7. Mark says:

    I was told by fish and wildlife that even if I brought in a dead cougar they would just claim it was a pet that had escaped and then say since it was now dead there were obvioiusly no more cougar out there. They said it is department policy that they must do everything to deny the existance of the cougar.

  8. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    You’re lucky! I’ve lived in mountain lion country all my life and never seen one. Heard them, seen their tracks, but never met one in person. They use about a hundred square miles of range out here, not denning and hunting out like foxes, say.

    And the avoidance of the endangered species act idea has a lot of merit. Folks in Santa Maria were forbidden to till their own land because a salamander species “neeeded” THEIR artificially dug farm ponds to spawn, and needed ground squirrel burrows to live. The ESA is dangerous, as written. We lost half the campgrounds in the Santa Barbara backcountry over a frog. Maybe let sleeping lions lie?

  9. Ryan says:

    It is also interesting the coat color. Reminds me of the different colors of squirrels around the country having different colors.

  10. jon says:

    http://ksax.com/article/stories/s1151033.shtml

    Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been saying for years no cougars in MN. I have seen one cross the same road at about the same spot twice in the last couple of years and several other people that live near that spot have seen one also. If you report it they say you saw a dog or bobcat. After the one was hit in attched article they started saying oh it was a young male traveling from the Black Hills of SD and wouldnt stay here…. yea right! Even after they took this one for “testing” you never heard the results because they didnt want anyone knowing it was wild and that it wasnt just “passing” through….. typical!

  11. mellifera says:

    Arizona went through/is going through similar gymnastics with jaguars.

  12. Sara says:

    We have had the same problem as you! Until recently the MI govt. has refused to admit that there are LARGE cats here. For example there was an attack on a horse a county north of us. The Govt. played it off as coyote or feral dog attack. 1 I have yet to see a coyote or pack mess with a full grown quarter horse. Now I can see feral dogs attacking a horse because of their lack of survival instinct to tell them other wise. 2 the wounds were on the back of the horses neck and shoulders. I have found that most canines go for the throat or under belly(some feline to such as lions). But mountain lions tend to go for the paralyzing neck breaking from leaping onto the back of their pray then move to the throat to finish off. They do this because they are lone hunters and can’t afford to be hurt. Watch any animal plant or discovery channel on wolves or mountain lions and it sticks right out. I think the Govt needs to stop and think which would be worse? Losing a few tourist because we openly admit we have large cats or losing a tourist because they were mulled and not aware that we had large cats ? Sad. But thankful our Govt has finally admitted that we do intact have large cats. Now we can go about making the right adjustment to protect them, our livestock and us. (even though it took us one time to coyote proof our chicken coop even though they were still “extinct” in our area (insert eye roll) and moved dog kennels closer to the house inside our fenced in back yard) Our Govt didn’t admit to us that we had coyotes until an up roar started because of the mysterious disappearance of house pets. All of the livestock loss was blamed on feral dogs. Which some may have been. But again feral dogs will kill for the fun of it and will kill as many as they can. Coyotes usually kill to survive and often carry their kill into the cover of the brush. Just saying…

    • Sometimes wild animals do wasteful mass killing. Locally we have seen this happen to neighbors with their chickens (fishercat) and sheep (coyote) and years ago we had rats do it to our chicks. Skunks, coons, hawks and owls will do the same thing. Sometimes government officials get into a killing frenzy and run around yelling “Kill, Kill, Kill” in their little depopulation zones. You think I jest. Look at the UK government a few years ago. Over six million healthy animals killed along with a lot of farmers. Look at the plans for dealing with animal disease. Crimminy, how did cougar sighting turn into NAIS?!? :) Vicious predators.

  13. Erika Thomas says:

    My neighbor claims they saw cougar prints. I do not want to believe them as I just do not want to have lions around here. The coyotes are bad enough. They ate my kitten and my neighbor another one lost their chickens to the coyotes or something not sure what.

  14. definitely cool…black though. My guess is that it was indeed a panther. I believe that the black “panthers” are native to the deep south and are extremely rare even there. In my mind you definitely saw a feral cat, an escaped or released big cat. We have native cougars in our area but they are so incredibly shy that a sighting is as rare as what you are describing…and our area is known to have wild populations! We have had at least one person killed by a cat in the last decade that I know of. I don’t think a truly wild cat would have given you such a long look and I certainly don’t think that any wild native cat would be black.

  15. JK says:

    Walter,
    It looks like they’ve finally declared that the eastern panther is extinct: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar/newsreleasefinal.html

    I’m not sure I buy it though… we’ve had sightings in the Woodstock/Bridgewater/Barnard area.

  16. Jen says:

    My brother has a farm in NW MA, and a big cat ate his goat a couple of years ago. (We found the ribcage in a tree. Unless we’ve got some coyotes with funny habits or a levitating dead goat, it was a cougar)

    I’ve seen them a few times – in a field with 2 cubs, just off a very busy street in a meadow, crossing a rural road in the middle of the night, almost hit one dashing across a parkway in central NY. Creepiest feeling ever to lock eyes with them, holy cow.

  17. Farmerbob1 says:

    ‘scares budget’ needs to be ‘scarce budget’ I think, Walter.

    Also, scat has DNA in it. Here’s a brief article about scientists using DNA from scat:

    http://genetics.thetech.org/original_news/news30

    If you find big cat scat, collect a sample. I would be amazed if there wasn’t a biology professor nearby who wouldn’t be thrilled to be able to prove that there are big cats in VT again. Once that professor has written their paper, using DNA samples from scat, the government will be a lot harder pressed to say there aren’t any big cats in the area. Remember that the big cat scat will have other animal DNA in it too, and that other animal DNA will be able to localize what the big cat has been eating.

  18. Sean Govan says:

    Did you hear about the jogger in Colorado who was attacked by a young 35 pound cougar the other day? He strangled it to death by standing on its throat! Makes me wonder what I would do if confronted by one in the woods with no dogs or gun.

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