Mountain lions remain a puzzling animal to New Hampshire residents, with New Hampshire Fish and Game reporting three to five sightings a week.
“Of those three to five reports, one or two come with photos,” said Patrick Tate, wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game.
Many granite staters firmly believe that mountain lions roam New Hampshire. Iain McLeod, Executive Director of the Squam Lake Natural Science Center, would like to help dispel these myths and educate visitors about mountain lions.
The center is home to two captive mountain lions. They were purchased in the state of Montana when a hunter accidentally killed a nursing mother during the hunting season. The two orphans are 18 years old, almost a decade above the expected life expectancy of a mountain lion in the wild.
According to McLeod, despite their age, they still serve as excellent ambassador animals.
The center maintains an opening in the enclosure for the entertainment of their animals, as employees are prohibited from entering the enclosure after the mountain lions have left 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 and check their teeth because we obviously can’t handle that.”
The lions have become more sedentary as they age and now spend much of their time sleeping and only coming out for an hour or so a day. The center offers graphics to visitors to illustrate the size and scale of a mountain lion compared to other cat species found in New Hampshire. Bobcats are typically around 3.5 feet long and a male mountain lion can grow up to 7 to 8 feet tall.
The center also offers commitment to animals.
“They eat a ‘carnivore mix’ for their diet, and they are given various enrichment items like toys or different scents,” said McLeod.
McLeod described the fascination for mountain lions as a game for many, as did the rampant dissemination of misinformation on the internet.
“It’s like UFOs. Photos that were clearly taken in another state have been around for years, and then it’s almost just a game, ”said McLeod.
McLeod believes that many individuals find it difficult to remotely distinguish between animal species.
“Someone might 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 hard time guessing the size – you might see a coyote in the field and you get the feeling that it looked a lot 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. “
Although Fish and Game has determined that New Hampshire has no sustainable breeding population and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has removed the eastern puma from the list of endangered species, many are still convinced of its presence in New Hampshire.
“Maybe someone came from the west. This one from South Dakota has proven that a male decided to wander but then find his way and land in Connecticut, ”said McLeod. “Do I think there is a viable breeding population in New Hampshire? Absolutely not, ”said McLeod.