DELAWARE COUGAR CONFIRMATIONS

Exclusive to ECN, 11/26/02

The Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife believes that there are currently at least two, and possibly more, free-roaming cougars in the State. The DNREC has confirmed the presence of cougars in the state over a period of several years. Officials are convinced that these animals are of captive origin. Sighting reports and confirmations of their presence have generally come from New Castle and Kent Counties. Evidence includes home video footage, pictures, tracks, scat and sightings by DNREC staff & law enforcement personnel. The pictures and videos are definitive. There is also evidence that the cats are regularly feeding on white-tailed deer and Canada geese. No reliable evidence exists of cougars taking domestic animals or threatening humans.

Credible cougar activity in the area started about eight years ago, when they were first reported near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Within a few months, cougar reports began to occur in northern Delaware. A video of a cougar was taken in Arden about this time. The DNREC is certain that the video is authentic. In response, the New Castle County Police assigned one of their officers (Butch LeFebvre) to catch the cougar(s). He arranged with the Delaware S.P.C.A. and the New Bolton Veterinary Clinic of the University of Pennsylvania to be trained in the use of a tranquilizer gun. The plan was to sedate the animal and take it to the Wilmington Zoo until a permanent home could be found. Officer LeFebvre chased the cat for several months, and even brought in cougar hounds from Colorado. He claimed to have seen it on several occasions, but never came close to catching it.

There has been a consistent stream of credible reports from all three of the state's counties over the years. Members of the DNREC staff have reported seeing cougars over the years, but none recently. Park Rangers at White Clay Creek and Lum's Pond State Park have claimed to have seen cougars over the past decade, as has a naturalist with the Heritage Program at Woodland Beach. Two years ago, the DNREC received a video of a cougar in western Kent County, near the Sussex County line.

Captain Robert Hutchins of the Delaware DNREC summarized the evidence in the following email to ECN:

From: Hutchins Robert (DNREC)

Sent: Tuesday, November 26, 2002 1:10 PM

To: Dowling, Mark (COMFIN, VFS)

Subject: RE: Cougar Project

Mark,

Here is a quick summary of confirmed cougar sightings in New Castle County, Delaware for the years:

Yr. 1999 ............12 Yr. 2000...........13

Yr. 2001.............20 Yr. 2002...........24

All of these confirmed cougar sightings have been investigated by a Fish & Wildlife Agent or Police Officer. I do not keep records of non-confirmed sightings. I can only give copies of the crime reports with cougar information to other police agencies for investigative purposes. Sorry, I forgot about the state law on dissemination of crime reports.

I have seen two separate video's of the cougar sightings that confirm that we have cougars in the area. We also have seen cougar tracks at sightings and cougar tracks at kills on deer and Canada Geese. The news media is keenly aware of the cougars and runs articles frequently.

There has not been a documented attack on livestock or humans in the state. We have photographs of hair, tracks and dead goats, sheep and a calf that were killed by dogs. Attempts to trap and hunt the animals have been unsuccessful. The Division believes there are 2 or 3 cougars in the state. They have been seen near schools, hospitals and shopping centers and have been photographed.

Cougars have been seen in all three counties of Delaware and nearby in Pennsylvania. There have been private citizens who have had cougars in their possession, it is possible that this is the source of cougars in our state. Cougar sightings can generate a lot of concern and apprehension from the public if information is not given to the news media by law enforcement in an attempt to educate the public in cougar safety.

Sincerely,

Cpt. Robert Hutchins