Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Connecticut Mountain Lion Likely was Captive Animal

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – A 140-pound mountain
lion that was struck and killed by a car in Connecticut was likely
a captive animal that escaped or was released, environmental
officials said on Monday, June 13.

The male lion was killed Saturday on a highway in Milford, a
coastal city that’s more than 1,000 miles from where the nearest
population of mountain lions lives. Department of Environmental
Protection officials said they were working with New York
authorities on a lead but declined to disclose details.

Officials believe the dead animal was the same mountain lion
that was spotted in the wealthy town of Greenwich from May 31 to
June 5, even though there were two reported sightings of a mountain
lion in Greenwich after the lion was killed.

“There’s no native population of mountain lions in Connecticut.
We believe this was a pet that escaped or was released in some
fashion,” said Susan Frechette, DEP deputy commissioner. She said
officials were investigating who may have owned the animal, who was
probably younger than 6.

“Until we have something we can really go on, a photograph, a
clear paw print or something that really indicates that we have
another animal, we’re still assuming we’re dealing with one,”
Frechette said.

Further tests are needed to determine the type of mountain lion
found. The eastern mountain lion has been declared extinct by U.S.
wildlife officials.

Col. Kyle Overturf with the Environmental Conservation Police
said authorities are investigating the case as a possible violation
of Connecticut’s wildlife laws.

“It is illegal to possess a mountain lion in Connecticut, and
if our investigation reveals that a Connecticut resident illegally
possessed this animal, we may see criminal charges,” Overturf
said.

He appealed for the public’s help in finding the animal’s
origin.

No one in Connecticut had a permit for a mountain lion, Overturf
said. New York had two permitted mountain lions and neither of
those animals escaped, he said.

“They’re following a lead right now that we’re working with,”
Overturf said. “Other than that, we have no other leads.”

Lori Severino, a Department of Environmental Conservation
spokeswoman in New York, said the agency isn’t directly involved
with any investigation based in Connecticut

Mountain lions are regularly reported throughout the Northeast
but rarely documented.

“For Connecticut, I can say with certainty, this was the first
hard confirmation that we’ve had of the occurrence of one
individual of the species,” said Paul Rego, a DEP wildlife
biologist.

Officials urged residents to keep an eye on children and pets,
bring any cat or dog food inside and deposit trash in sealed
containers. Mountain lions are most active at dawn and dusk.

Audubon Greenwich closed its trails Sunday and Monday to the
public after a resident reporting seeing a mountain lion a day
after the mountain lion was killed in Milford.

“We’re just kind of taking it one day at a time,” said Karen
Dixon, Audubon director. “I think people are just trying to stay
informed.”

Phylis Roitsch, a Greenwich resident who lives near one of the
sightings, said she was concerned for her pets’ safety. But if
another mountain lion turns up, she said she hopes officials can
use a tranquilizer to capture it.

“The mountain lion must be every bit as scared and unhappy as
we are,” Roitsch said.

The nearest population of mountain lions is in Missouri or
Nebraska, said Tom French, assistant director of the Massachusetts
Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“I suspect that it probably escaped from some private
individual,” French said.

Massachusetts officials have seized six mountain lions in the
past 27 years that were kept as pets, the most recent in 1993,
French said. He said mountain lions were more popular as pets 25
years ago, though they’re still somewhat common nationwide.

The last confirmed cougar sighting in the Northeast was in Maine
in 2000, said Christopher Spatz, president of the Cougar Rewilding
Foundation.

Associated Press writers Susan Haigh and Michael Melia
contributed to this story.

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