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Is the eastern cougar truly extinct?

In fact, we haven't had to worry for nearly 80 years according to government researchers. They claim the eastern cougar subspecies has likely been extinct since the last cat was shot in Maine, way back in1938.

However, what researchers can't explain is the rash of sightings that are regularly reported from locations all across the northern forests, stretching from New Brunswick to New York and beyond.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service fully believes that some people have seen cougars, and that was an important part of the review that we did," explained Mark McCollough, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist quoted in a press release.

McCollough headed up the agency's five-year effort that searched for evidence of a breeding population of eastern cougars. If the big cats were around, there would have to be evidence, beyond blurry photos and stories of screams in the night.

There would have to be scratching poles, and scent mounds and dens, and kits and kills. The big cats are opportunists, surely they would be found in a trap, shot, or photographed by at least one of the thousands of game cameras out there.

Yet, the stories persist. My own family members claim to have seen them. So do many of my friends, and numerous credible woodsmen. Even a couple of the DEC's own wildlife biologists have witnessed the cats in the wild.

I don't doubt that all of these people were seeing something, and it obviously looked like a cougar, but where did they come from and where did they go?

Although the US Fish and Wildlife Department couldn't locate a cougar after searching for five full years, it sure is nice to think that somebody still can. In some odd sort of way, it makes the local woods exciting... and we all need a little more excitement in our lives.

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net.

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