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.