There are few topics that get Mainers riled up more than an old-fashioned debate about the presence — or lack thereof — of mountain lions.
Some are sure we’ve got mountain lions in our midst, and some say they’ve spotted the big cats. Others are more skeptical.
Late last month, a Bangor Daily News reader checked in via email with a tale to tell, which we shared with Walter Jakubas, a wildlife biologist from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to get his opinion.
Here’s what the reader had to say:
“We are vacationing in Corea, Maine. Yesterday, I could barely believe my eyes and neither could my daughter. We saw a black feline, definitely taller and longer than a Great Dane. It crossed the driveway in front of us no more than 100 feet from us,” the reader wrote. “Our dogs are with us and have been behaving strangely around the cabin we are staying in. Just 10 minutes before we saw the feline, my daughter heard something strange that she had never heard before. She said it sounded like something screaming as it was being eaten.
“The description of the feline as it crossed the driveway: It was about 4½ to 5 feet tall and its body was at least 5 feet long not counting the tail,” the reader wrote. “The tail … oh, my goodness, the tail hung like a large long letter J. The tail was about as long as the feline’s entire body and had a white ring around the edge. Its tail was not white tipped, but rather, had a ring around it near the end of the tail. The cat was not speckled brown, but definitely all black.”
It didn’t take long for Jakubas — a biologist who has been researching potential mountain lion sightings for years — to offer his opinion.
“I am not sure I can logically explain everything that [this family] saw, but this is my best shot,” Jakubas wrote in the email. “In my conversations over the years with other biologists about black cougar or black panther sightings, two consistent observations come up. First, there are no black cougars, and a panther sighting is highly unlikely. Black panthers are, of course, not native to this area and could only result from a captive animal being released. Second, most of the time when people report seeing a large black cat, they have seen a black bear.
“In the Corea sighting, the animal was reported to be 4½ to 5 feet tall and 5 feet long,” Jakubas wrote. “This is tall even for a bear, but unless people have an object that provides a good frame of reference for the size of the animal they are looking at, it can be very difficult to correctly judge the size of the animal, especially if the animal was only seen for a short amount of time.”
That raises another question: If the family saw a bear, how do you explain the presence of a long tail?
Jakubas said that when a bobcat walks, a hind leg is often visible behind it. Some people mistake the extended leg for a long tail, and assume they’re looking at a mountain lion.
“The same principle could apply to a bear if the person saw it as it was walking with a hind leg angled back … I have no idea however why the animal had a white ring around the tail (or foot). Perhaps it was an injury of some type where the hair had not grown back, but this is purely a guess.”
That explanation is unlikely to convince some, of course. Mainers do love to debate the likelihood of mountain lions walking among us.
If you’ve got photos or accounts of your own “mountain lion” encounter, send them along to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.