Thursday, September 21, 2006

Man believes cougar may have killed deer: DEC says no cougar populations documented in NY

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 10:04 AM CDT

Gary Lloyd believes a cougar may have killed a deer Sunday night off Sherman Road between Alfred Station and Almond.

Lloyd, 63, is a wildlife biologist and a retired Alfred-Almond biology teacher who has been researching cougars for years. He also runs Deer Skin Products Company, which specializes in wholesale deerskin gloves. After observing the deer carcass Monday, Lloyd believes it was the work of a big cat based on the way the rib cage was exposed, along with puncture wounds on the neck.

“The first thing a cat usually does is open the base of a rib cage and go for those organs,” he said. “It's like their ice cream.”

Mike Ermer, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 9 office in Allegany, said sightings are regularly reported but cases have never been confirmed.

“We can't definitively say there couldn't possibly be a mountain lion out there, but what we can say is there is no population of mountain lions in New York state,” he said. “In terms of a wild population, the nearest are in south Florida and South Dakota.”

Lloyd kept the neck and the skin from the head and neck as evidence. There were no tracks, however. He believes the cat got lucky after spooking the deer, which then got stuck in the fence.

“They had quite a trashing there,” he said.

Lloyd, however, also feels the cougar tried to get at the animal's heart and liver, but was scared off.

“It may have been towards dawn,” he said. “The noise over there may have scared it away before it did that.”

Lloyd guessed the cat would weigh about 120 pounds, which he said is big enough to take down a 1,200-pound cow or even an bull elephant. He said in the last year-and-a-half he has seen evidence - including tracks and dead animals - that suggests cougars regularly pass through the area. He's even given the creature a name: The Allegany Ripper.

“I keep finding things, but I personally have never seen one,” Lloyd said. “It's not like I can say I believe because I saw one.”

Ermer said it's always possible someone could have brought an illegal mountain lion to New York and at some point it was released. It's unlikely, however, one would make the 1,500-mile trip from existing populations to New York.

“You can drop a house cat in the country and it will survive for a while,” he said. “Cats are pretty resourceful.”

“I've been working here for 30 years and we've had sightings for 30 years, but we have yet to turn up a road kill or dead one,” Ermer added. “My feeling as a wildlife biologist is if we had a population of mountain lions they would show up as road kill or dead. As few as they have in south Florida they show up as road kill all the time, and that's an endangered population in the south Everglades.”

Ermer said there have been tracks found, but none were definitive enough to tell for sure. He suggested lighting and other circumstances can lead people to believe coyotes or bobcats are mountain lions. According to Ermer, wounds inflicted by bears and bobcats also are similar to mountain lions.

“We feel we haven't had any confirmed evidence,” he added. “Twenty to 30 years ago coyotes moved into the area on their own. That has not happened with mountain lions and it's not likely to happen in the near future.”

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