By PETER APPLEBOME
Published: July 26, 2011
That means that the animal traveled more than 1,500 miles to Connecticut, more than twice as far as the longest dispersal pattern ever recorded for a mountain lion. The news stunned researchers trying to make sense of the first confirmed presence of the species in Connecticut in more than a century. Many believed that the animal must have been released or had escaped from captivity.
Daniel C. Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said that the journey was a remarkable and positive reminder of the ability of wild animals to survive and adapt, but that there was no evidence that mountain lions were returning to the state.
“This is the first evidence of a mountain lion making its way to Connecticut from western states, and there is still no evidence indicating that there is a native population of mountain lions in Connecticut,” he said.
But the finding may add at least a smidgen of mystery or paranoia to dozens of reports of similar creatures in Connecticut and the Northeast, most of them investigated and then dismissed as mistaken impressions. Before the animal was reported seen in early June in Greenwich, the last confirmed sighting of a mountain lion in Connecticut was in the late 1800s.
Dennis Schain, communications director for the department, said that the development could lead people to wonder if there were other mountain lions, but that there was no reason to believe so.
“We’ve never seen any evidence of that,” he said, “and you can see that in other states where they do get mountain lions dispersing they have evidence — a footprint, scat, DNA. We’ve never had any of that. There’s been no evidence of them moving into this area except for this incident.”
The animal’s origins were determined by genetic tests conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Wildlife Genetics Laboratory in Missoula, Mont. DNA tests showed that tissue from the mountain lion killed in Connecticut matched the genetic structure of the mountain lion population in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.
The laboratory also compared this lion’s DNA to DNA samples from creatures found elsewhere in the country. That led to a match with DNA collected from an animal whose movements were tracked in Minnesota and Wisconsin from late 2009 through early 2010. DNA from the Milford lion matched DNA collected from a mountain lion at one site in Minnesota and three sites in Wisconsin. The path of the mountain lion led biologists in Wisconsin to name the cat the St. Croix Mountain Lion, after the first county where a sighting was confirmed.
The travels of the young lion, 2 to 5 years old and not quite full grown, are a familiar pattern called dispersal, in which young males look for mates. But officials said they seldom travel more than 100 miles.
The Midwestern DNA samples were obtained from droppings, blood and hair found at locations where sightings of the animal were confirmed.
Officials said a necropsy, performed at the Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area in Burlington, Conn., also confirmed that the animal had come from the wild. It had not been neutered or declawed, they said. It had no implanted microchips, which are commonly used in domestic animals. And porcupine quills were found under the animal’s skin, indicating it had come from the wild. Its stomach was empty, but an analysis of food in its intestines was being conducted.
Some of you may recall my encounter with a mountain lion here just north of the Narrows – The Cougar. The mountain lion I saw was beneath high power electrical lines. My theory is that these magnificent creatures are migrating beneath and alone these often remote man-made pathways.