Some in the Epsom area insist they’ve seen a mountain lion; Fish and Game remain skeptical

  • A mountain lion sits in its enclosure at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in 2018. Monitor file

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/28/2021 9:13:36 PM

Lindsay Holden is not a wildlife biologist, nor does she play one on TV.

In her mind, however, that doesn’t disqualify her from showing sound judgment when claiming she saw a mountain lion last month in her backyard in Chichester, beyond her deck, near the woods.

Not a bobcat.

She’s a hearty New Englander with sharp eyes and the ability to Google. She looked at photos of both cats. She read about their habits, their history, their homesteads. She’s convinced that at least one mountain lion – also known as a cougar – is wandering somewhere in the Suncook Valley. Or at least it was recently.

And judging by the responses she’s received on Epsom’s informal town Facebook page, a lot of Granite Staters are also confident that the eastern mountain lion is alive and well in the Granite State and visiting communities near them.

“I know what I saw,” Holden said by phone. “I am absolutely positive that is what it was. What else could it be?”

Well, a bobcat. That’s the version New Hampshire Fish and Game is sticking to. For now. State officials have said, over and over in recent years, that the eastern mountain lion has been completely wiped out from the Northeast.

“There is a very low possibility of seeing them in the Eastern states,” said Pat Tate, a wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game. “The most common species (seen) is the bobcat, and people, in their eyes, say they see a mountain lion.”

Tate says reports of mountain lion sightings to conservation officers have gone up lately, to three to five per week. He says people sometimes show him photographic proof. Or at least they think it’s proof.

“Out of those three or five sightings per week, one or two will come with photos,” Tate said. “And those photos to date have been bobcats.”

Tate was mindful to show respect to anyone who calls his office to claim that they saw a mountain lion. “We don’t roll our eyes,” he told me. “I will say that I can not rule out what they say, but at the same time, I can not verify what they saw.”

Sound familiar?

Whether or not the mountain lion still roams the woods is on the minds of people who live in the Epsom region and elsewhere in the Suncook Valley. Holden’s home is in Chichester, near the Epsom town line.

She wrote on Facebook earlier this month. She reached out, seeking other witnesses. This thing weighed more than 40 pounds, according to Holden’s admittedly rough estimate. Someone must have seen it.

“I know the controversy, but definitely saw one, from behind, with a long, thick tail this morning at the edge of my field heading into the woods,” Holden wrote. “Certainly not a bobcat (had one of those here last summer). Clear view of him.”

Holden told me she was in her living room, sitting on her couch, working on her laptop. She noticed something about 70 to 80 feet away, near a pile of leaves, over by the woods.

“Something caught my eyes, and I looked up and saw it for four or five seconds,” Holden said. “It was striking, because it was walking away and I clearly saw the tail, and it was long and thick and at the end was a very dark, different color from the animal. I’ve seen many bobcats and they don’t have tails, and this was no house cat.”

She had no time to snap a photo, and I was told by colleagues to be skeptical here. Look at the data. Listen to the experts. There are western mountain lions, but, until further notice, the eastern version is no more.

Then out popped a story, told by Tate. He said one of those western mountain lions traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, seeking a mate. It was hit and killed by a car in Connecticut 10 years ago, and that, Tate said, is a fact.

”As a wildlife biologist, it was an eye-opener on how far they can travel,” Tate said, “and there is the possibility of them coming in. But without evidence, a wildlife biologist can not verify what they saw.”

Yet, the Facebook input stirred by Holden’s post told you that residents believe in the existence of this giant, dangerous cat, which Tate said are muscular and can reach the size of a large dog and weigh 70 to 80 pounds. Forty pounds is unusually heavy for a bobcat, a member of the lynx family.

Someone posted a photo from 15 years ago. It shows what could be a mountain lion. Or not. You can see reddish coloring on its back and white fur around its mouth. Fish and Game wasn’t convinced, saying more, clearer proof was necessary.

Sherry Jackson Notaey of Epsom posted her experience with mountain lions from 20 years ago. She said it was a Monday holiday, maybe Labor Day. Most neighbors had gone out of town. She saw two big cats, standing side by side, before the days of cell phone cameras. If she had had one, it wouldn’t have mattered.

“Even if I had a camera, in that moment I was not thinking that I need to document these animals,” Notaey said. “I was thinking, ‘Will I survive the situation?’ ”

Other posts explained more recent sightings, but I couldn’t reach those sources. Their words, though, made it clear that people in Epsom and the surrounding areas are believers. At least some are, and they’ve created a buzz.

They wrote that they, too, saw mountain lions. At Frangione’s field. On Towle Road. Off Route 28.

“(My encounter) was so long ago, people ask me if that is still relevant,” Notaey said. “But over the years when you talk about it and say what I saw, people privately say, ‘Yep, I saw that, and it’s not a bobcat.’ ”

“It’s not uncommon to hear this,” Notaey continued. “What keeps them out west? There’s no fence.”

At least one mountain lion proved that it is, indeed, possible to roam long distances. The lion killed in Connecticut walked from South Dakota, a 2,000-mile trip.

That’s been documented. Fish and Game, however, needs more before it declares that mountain lions have returned.

Holden suspects that Fish and Game has no interest in finding proof that mountain lions are here. She says conservation lands would need to expand. Policies would need to change.

Like the rest of us, she’s waiting for the picture that’s worth a thousand words. Something that leaves no wiggle room for Fish and Game, no opportunity for a PR message that mentions bobcats, or Jerry Mouse’s adversary, Tom Cat.

Holden didn’t get the photo. Instead, she went back to the scene looking for other clues.

“I looked for tracks and didn’t find any,” Holden said. “That area is too dry. They also need scat for proof. I couldn’t find any of that, either.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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