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DEP: Slain Mountain Lion Was Held in Captivity

Officials believe only one wild cat has been stalking region.

The state Department of Environmental Protection’s police unit is investigating whether a mountain lion killed on the Merritt Parkway in Milford over the weekend escaped from illegal captivity — despite the fact that the animal had no physical signs of being domesticated.

“Our division is actively investigating this case as a violation of Connecticut laws,” said Lt. Kyle Overturf, of the state Environmental Conservation Police. “We really need the public’s help on this case to follow the origins of this animal.”

A mountain lion was killed on the Merritt Parkway Saturday morning after being struck by an SUV. This followed previous reports of sightings in Greenwich, some 40 miles away. DEP officials have said they believe it is the same animal even though they acknowledged they are continuing to receive reported mountain lion sightings, including two on Sunday in northern Greenwich.

During a conference call with reporters on Monday, DEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Frechette said her department is actively working to determine the origin of the slain animal recovered from the highway accident. She said the department also is conducting tests and analyzing paw prints and scat samples from other sightings, as well as working to collaborating with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and research institutions in Florida and California.

“We do continue to state that there is no native population of mountain lions in Connecticut,” Frechette said. She said residents in the Greenwich area and in the state should use precaution, by keeping small animals and children inside and applying “common sense” safety tips like not leaving dog or cat food outside.

Anyone who sees anything that looks like a mountain lion should call the DEP hotline at 860-424-3333, Frechette said. 

Meanwhile, Overturf said his department is trying to determine whether the 140-pound male mountain lion came from a domestic situation, either in New York or within Connecticut. Noting that it is a crime to possess a wild animal in Connecticut, Overturf said several state agencies are to determine this animal’s origin and is actively pursuing leads that arise.

“Right now we have no permit mountain lions in Connecticut,” Overturf said. “There are two permitted in New York and [EnCon police in New York] are following a lead there. Other than that we have no other lead right now.”

In response to reporters’ questions, DEP Biologist Paul Rego said there was no actual physical indication the animal was in captivity. He said the male animal was not neutered, had no collar, was not declawed and was, through a “cursory examination,” a lean mountain lion. Rego noted that, more often, animals held in captivity or domestic situations are usually “out of shape.”

The primary reason why the DEP believe the animal is an escaped mountain lion is because no such animals are known to exist in Connecticut, Rego said. 

“It is so far from a source population is known to exist,” he said. “That is the most logical explanation.” 

The DEP is analyzing DNA samples to determine whether the mountain lion is from a North American or South American source, Rego said. Often, those that are kept in captivity hail from South America, he said.

Rego acknowledged that these animals can travel far, however, the closest areas where mountain lions are known to be are Florida, the Dakotas and some places in the far Midwest.

“If it’s an animal from Florida, that doesn’t mean it’s a dispersing animal,” he said. “Some have gone 500 miles, but that still puts them 500 miles from Connecticut.”

He added the mountain lion was no older than six years old.

Despite the fact one animal has already been killed — and has been confirmed to likely be the same one previously sighted near Brunswick School in Greenwich — other mountain lion sightings continue to persist, even Monday morning.

Greenwich Police spokesman Lt. Kraig Gray said a sighting Sunday at a John Street residence in the backcountry section of northern Greenwich “was very credible. It was quite credible from five people from one family and they enjoyed enough time of viewing it to know what it was.”

He added, “It was not the fleeting image” that officials have seen in a photograph taken by a staff member of the Brunswick School. On June 5, staff at the private all-boys school on King Street, spotted a mountain lion on the campus, which abuts the Westchester County Airport.

The family reported watching the full-grown feline take two leaps to scale a 25-foot high retaining wall in the rear of their yard, according to Greenwich Emergency Management Director Dan Warzoha, a friend of the family who does not want to be identified. 

The family’s property abuts Audubon Greenwich property. Officials there closed its trails as a precaution Sunday. A message left Monday afternoon with Audubon officials was not immediately returned.

Gray said a motorist reported seeing “that they thought they saw it in a tree on the Merritt Parkway near the North Street exit.” He said that sighting is considered unverified and that his department was notified by the state DEP of that incident. Further details were not immediately available.

As for other possible sightings, in early June and commenters on several Patch sites have reported their own sightings. The DEP has historically denied all of them, and Dennis Schain, department spokesman, reconfirmed Monday that these sightings usually turn out to be some other animal. 

“Everything to a dog, to a coyote to a bobcat upon examination,” Schain said.

Alice C. Stelzer June 14, 2011 at 11:16 AM
What lengths they will go to so as not to be wrong. Remember they also denied fishers were here until there were so many they looked foolish.
Theresa Anderson June 14, 2011 at 07:23 PM
This fish and wildlife agency is no different than others in the east. They deny the existance because the book information said that there are none there. Exact same thing happened in Kentucky when a sighting of a Mountain Lion was reported in Frankfort, KY. A deer cam. caught a picture of one dragging off a kill and it was not till then that they said it could be possible that there actually was a lion there. Even in the face of a fact, they deny. Foolish indeed!

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