Squam Lake: Home of mountain lions

  • The two Mountain Lions at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness. Courtesy of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center

Monitor staff
Published: 9/3/2021 5:01:49 PM

Mountain lions remain an enigmatic animal for residents of New Hampshire, with New Hampshire Fish and Game reporting three to five sightings per week.

“Of those three to five reports, one or two come with photos,” according to Patrick Tate, a wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game.

Many Granite Staters remain adamant that mountain lions roam New Hampshire. Iain McLeod, executive director of the Squam Lake Natural Science Center, is looking to help dispel these myths while educating visitors about mountain lions.

The center hosts two mountain lions in captivity. They were purchased from the state of Montana when a hunter accidentally killed a nursing mother during hunting season. The two orphans are 18 years old, nearly a decade beyond the expected lifespan of a mountain lion in the wild.

According to McLeod, despite their age, they still serve as excellent ambassador animals.

In the enclosure, the center maintains an opening to provide entertainment for their animals, as employees are forbidden to enter the enclosure when the mountain lions are out of their den.

“The trainer goes through a number of different actions, mostly for health,” said McLeod. “We train them so we can see the underside, check their teeth because we obviously can’t handle these.”

The lions have become more sedentary with age and now spend much of their time asleep, only coming out for an hour or so a day. The center provides graphics for visitors to illustrate the size and scale of a mountain lion compared to other species of felines found in New Hampshire. Bobcats are usually about 3.5 feet long and a male mountain lion can be up to 7 to 8 feet. 

The center also provides engagement for the animals.

“They eat a ‘carnivore mix’ for their diet, and they are provided with different enrichment items such as toys or different scents,” said McLeod.

McLeod described the fascination with mountain lions as akin to a game for many, as well as the rampant spread of misinformation online.

“It’s like UFOs. Photos clearly taken in another state have been circulating for years, and then it’s just a game almost,” said McLeod.

McLeod believes many individuals have a difficult time distinguishing between animal species from afar.

“Someone may see a picture of a cat and think ‘oh, it’s huge,’ but it's just a house cat,” said McLeod. “People have a really tough time estimating size – so maybe you would see a coyote out in the field, and you feel it looked much much bigger and people say it’s a wolf. They believe it’s the size of a golden retriever, and mountain lions are four times the size of a golden retriever.”

Though Fish and Game have determined that there is no sustainable breeding population in New Hampshire, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has removed the eastern cougar from the endangered species list, many still remain convinced of their presence in New Hampshire.

“It’s possible one has come from out west. That one from South Dakota proved that a male decided to go on a wander but then make its way through and end up in Connecticut,” said McLeod. “Do I think there’s a viable breeding population in New Hampshire? Absolutely not,” said McLeod.

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