To be is my answer.
Not only because I've seen one in Maine, but because other
knowledgeable Maine residents have shared their cougar-sightings with
But it's extinct in Maine, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife
biologist who appeared this week on Maine Public Broadcasting Network's
The next paragraph is from the show's lead-in: "The last time an
Eastern cougar was shot and killed in Maine was 1938. Now, it has been
declared extinct. Yet, hundreds of people believe they've seen them.
Meet a couple of those people and U.S. Fish and Wildlife expert Mark
Jennifer Rooks, the show's host and interviewer, asked the right
questions. But some of McCollough's answers, in my opinion (and like all
of us, I have one) were somewhat misleading. Also in my opinion, they
were that way deliberately.
Why? One of Rook's questions, various versions of which I've heard
and read over the years, was, if the cougar is officially living in
Maine as an endangered species, wouldn't that mean land set aside as its
habitat and limitations established on development within that area?
McCollough's response was his lowering his head, eyes not directed at
either Rooks or the camera, and a mumble that I couldn't understand.
This, I suspect, is the real reason the Eastern cougar is officially
considered extinct. It it doesn't exist, then no problem. No land needed
for its protection. No rules needed for developers to follow. In other
words, no money lost for big -- or smaller -- business.
But McCollough said that over the years there have been "hundreds" of
cougar sightings in Maine. He added that most people only see what they
think is a cougar for a few seconds. He also said most people are not
expert in seeing cougar, or words to that effect.
Maybe someone once thought a Saint Bernard was a cougar. I've never heard of that person. I do know a cat is a cat is a cat.
|This probably isn't a cougar. She may just be Smokey, one of the three kitties who share our house with us. Milt Gross photo.|
The biologist dealt with a subspecies of cougar, I believe the
Eastern cougar. He didn't actually say that other species of cougar have
been seen in Maine but that some may have wandered into the Pine Tree
State. He also didn't say they haven't been seen in the Pine Tree State.
In my opinion, it probably doesn't matter one way or the other to the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as long as they don't have to take any
action concerning whatever has been seen in Maine that will restrict
I knew the bobcat we watched for two days chowing down on a dead deer
within easy camera shot of our bedroom window was not a cougar. I knew
it was a bobcat. I also knew it was not a Saint Bernard -- or a Great
When I see something out of the ordinary, I generally see what I'm
seeing and later speculate about details. In other words, I don't decide
a cougar is a Great Dane and then later think about whether it may have
been a cougar.
The only one I ever saw was walking along the westbound edge of Route
3 somewhere around Palermo or Montville. It was at night, and I was
driving home to Swanville, which dates my only sighting to be in the
1970s when we lived in Swanville. I saw the big cat in my headlights as I
was driving east, not planning to see any animal.
I first thought, is that a Great Dane? The instant answer was, no.
Great Danes, large, thin, often tawny-colored dogs, don't have cat
faces. This was the face of a large cat.
Let's see. Could it have been a moose? No, don't think so. They don't
have cat faces either. A deer? Nah, no way. A stray kitty? Too big. I
wonder what else it could have been.
I know, a cougar, or mountain lion, or catamount -- all the same beastie.
It also had the long tail of a cougar.
All these years I was pretty sure this cougar was a cougar. Still am.
Was it the subspecies Eastern cougar? Who knows? Didn't know they came
In other words, Mr. U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, don't tell me I
didn't see and know what I saw. My eyes clearly saw it, and my brain
filled in the information.
I've written the following tales before, I believe, but they are worth repeating.
Two school kids I knew who lived in Dixfield told me they had just
gotten off the school bus and were walking along the road toward home.
They heard something in the roadside brush behind them and caught a
glimpse of guess what. No, not a varying hare. A mountain lion. It
followed them for awhile, I assume out of curiosity as to what kind of
critters climb down out of a yellow metal box and walk down the road.
Somewhere in a short time, it was no longer there. Probably decided that
since they weren't mice, why bother eating them. Which, I'm pretty sure
made them thankful they weren't mice -- maybe, if they thought about
While I was editor of the Podunk Weekly non-newspaper in western
Maine a century or so ago, a man phoned one day and said he had been
seeing a mountain lion napping in his flower garden right outside his
window several days in a row. He asked what I thought he should do. What
I thought? Hey, I was an editor guy, not a mountain lion expert.
I told him I'd phone Jim, the local game warden, and ask him.
I did, and he said, "I'd let it nap."
Seemed like a sensible answer, and I phoned the cougar-napper watcher and reported Jim's advice.
And wrote a little six-inch story about it, which, after all, is what I was being paid to do in those days.
My last tale concerns a friend, who told me one day while he was
riding my Island Explorer bus into Southwest Harbor that he had seen a
mountain lion on the Valley Cliff Trail that follows the cliff on the
east side of Saint Sauveur Mountain in Acadia National Park. The facts
as he related them; he saw the cougar, and it disappeared. This friend
is a fairly good artist, and I have no doubt he wasn't seeing a Maine
Coon Cat. A cougar is actually pretty hard to see and mistake as
But we didn't think the story, as was, was good enough to share with
the tourists who rode my bus. So we added to it, just a mite.
In our mutually edited version, he had seen the cougar, and it had
leaped at him. My friend, naturally being a little nervous at that
point, ducked down. The cougar hit his back -- my friend was luckily
wearing a jacket for this version of the story -- and bounced off. My
friend last glimpsed the mountain lion sailing into space over the edge
of the cliff.
Now isn't that a much better story?
I may have a point to all this, and it is for the benefit of all
those fine wildlife officials who tell us that what we saw in the woods
or near it wasn't what we saw but something else.
Just because you apparently want to preserve Maine for the developers, please don't call us all that stupid.
We know what we saw, unless we actually aren't sure what we saw.
A cougar in Maine is a cougar in Maine, not a Saint Bernard.
* In searching around on the internet for information about cougars,
I came across www.cougarnet.org, which was described in these words,
"The Cougar Network is a nonprofit organization dedicated to studying
cougar-habitat relationships and the role of cougars in ecosystems.
Although we conduct work throughout the range of the cougar, we are
especially interested in the phenomenon of expanding cougar populations
into their former habitats."
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012