Elusive 'Ghost Cat' walks in our woods
To the editor:
I had the pleasure of teaching the art of taxidermy at Westfield State University from 1980 to 2010. During my classes, hunters told stories about encounters with the "Ghost Cat," aka, the Eastern Mountain Lion.
About 10 years ago it was dropped from the Endangered Species List because it was believed to be extinct in eastern North America. Therefore, people who had sighted a long-tailed cat the size of a deer were reluctant to report it. A deer hunter in Granville saw one and said that people would have thought him crazy, like seeing a space ship with little green men. A farmer in Granville told me he saw a mountain lion walking across his pasture last April and a bow hunter on a deer run in Granville told me in January that a mountain lion almost walked into him!
Tom French had an excellent article in the December issue of MASS Wildlife Magazine in which he seemed to believe that some of the mountain lion sightings were real. He believes that the few documented sightings, like the one killed by a car in Milford, Connecticut, were traveling males. Other sightings may have been cougars released from captivity. There have been numerous sighting for more than 40 years in Blandford, Russell, Montgomery, Granville and Worthington.
A failed attempt to document the existence of cougars in the Berkshires was carried out by a biologist who asked local residents for information but also warned that killing, harassing or even chasing a mountain lion was illegal and punishable by a $10,000 fine. A teenage driver hit and killed a cougar cub that was following its mother on Route 23 in Russell. He was told by his father to bury it in the woods and avoid trouble! Coon hunters were afraid of mentioning that they had treed a mountain lion in the Russell Town Forest for fear of being prosecuted.
If biologists really want to document the existence of the Eastern Mountain Lion they should ask for help, minus the $10,000 fine. If they find locations of heavy use they could bait the areas with beaver carcasses and cover them with trail cameras.
Many of us can remember when moose, bear and coyotes were rare and fisher were not found in Massachusetts. The Eastern Mountain Lion will soon join them in the Berkshires, but then, maybe they are already here. After all, they are called the "Ghost Cat".
Bill Hardie, Russell