The Cougar Network has documented a modest number of confirmations from the Northeast Region (See interactive map below). To get detailed information for a particular incident, click on the respective dot. A summary of the evidence from each state/province can be found below the map.
Unlike the Prairie and Midwest regions where cougars appear to be filtering in from known western populations, the origin of cougars in the Northeast is uncertain. Cougar experts and state wildlife agencies believe that they are all likely intentional releases or escapees. There has been one big exception -- the "CT Cougar." A cougar killed on a highway in CT 70 miles from New York City in June 2011 was given a necropsy and found to be wild -- and to have originated in the Black Hills of SD! A presentation presents the steps in his journey. However, NY DEC gave out a press release in late July of a confirmation at Lake George in upstate NY. DNA from that confirmation indicated it was the same animal! So -- we have an incident of a cougar wandering about 2000 miles to the east coast over about 2-3 years.
New Brunswick has had two incidents that qualify as confirmations under the Cougar Network’s strict criteria. In 1992, Provincial wildlife biologist Rod Cumberland documented tracks and collected scat that appeared to contain cougar hair under microscopic analysis. In 2003, Parks Canada biologists in Fundy National Park retrieved two hair samples from "hair snares" that tested positive for cougar DNA. The two samples were found within a short distance of one another, and were collected over a three-month period. Subsequent testing indicated that the samples came from two different animals. One sample reflected the South American cougar genotype; the other sample reflected the North American cougar genotype. Thus, the cougar sample of South American genotype was definitively of captive origin. The sample reflecting the North American genotype could possibly be of a wild cat. The Cougar Network currently classifies the North American sample as a “confirmation,” however, the proximity in time and space of two completely unrelated animals in an area not known to harbor a population of cougars seems improbable, and raises questions about the origin of both animals. Subsequent efforts by biologists to substantiate the presence of cougars in this area have been unsuccessful.
Quebec Provincial wildlife authorities and independent wildlife researchers both speculate there may be a small population in Quebec – this suggestion needs to await solid confirmation. Researchers have obtained a number of DNA positive confirmations in the Province. However, like New Brunswick, the origin of these animals is questionable. Not only do a high proportion of the samples contain the South American genotype, but a number of them were collected in seemingly unsuitable cougar habitat with an inadequate prey base.
Two Class II confirmations are from Maine. A confirmation was made at Cape Elizabeth in 1995 on the southern coast, where a woman witnessed a cougar drinking from a pond. Hair samples were collected by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) wildlife biologists. The hair samples were analyzed microscopically and determined to be cougar. A second confirmation in the fall of 2000 is from Monmouth located in south central Maine. A deer hunter was scouting the area before hunting season and came upon a female and a kitten. He called the district game warden who then contacted a state wildlife biologist to investigate. They found numerous tracks in the mud. A press account of the Monmouth event can be found here. MDIF&W believes that there have definitely been cougars in Maine, but that they are likely of captive origin.
New Hampshire has had a number of sighting reports, but no confirmations.
Vermont has not produced any confirmations, however, the state did have one very interesting incident in the northeast part of the state in 1994. A Massachusetts man saw a family group of three behind his mother's home in Craftsbury. Local woodsmen followed the animals' tracks and recovered scat and other physical evidence which was turned over to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (VF&WD). VF&WD sent the scat to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife's forensics lab for analysis. Microscopic hair recognition tests confirmed that hair in the scat came from mountain lions. Subsequent DNA tests indicated that the scat came from a coyote. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department suspected that a mix-up of samples in the labs likely accounted for the inconsistent results and stood by its original assessment. Due to these conflicting results, The Cougar Network considers this incident to be inconclusive.
Massachusetts has one confirmation. In April, 1997, John McCarter, an associate of Paul Rezendes, discovered a beaver kill in the north Quabbin area of central Massachusetts. He also found a number of scats, one of which was sent out for DNA analysis and proved to be cougar. Additionally, there was a beaver kill buried in leaves in typical cougar fashion and beaver DNA was found in the scat, indicating the cougar had eaten some of the beaver.
Central and western Massachusetts and adjacent areas of Connecticut have had a large number of sighting reports, but no hard evidence. However, CT has the recent exploits of the "CT Cougar" mentioned above.
New York has had significant number of cougar sightings, particularly in the Adirondack region of northern New York. However, there has only been one incident (except for the CT cougar) that meets the Cougar Network’s criteria for a Class II confirmation. An apparent cougar killed deer was identified by a DEC biologist in 1993. Click here to read DEC memo and pictures of this incident.
There are a modest number of confirmations in the Northeast. Vermont, Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec wildlife personnel are taking credible cougar reports very seriously. The origin of cougars found in this area is still a mystery, since the Northeast region is very distant from known populations in the West and Midwest. There is no evidence of a breeding population, and most cougar experts believe that any animals in this region are usually of captive origin. The presence of South American genotypes in many of the DNA positive hair samples indicates that at least some of these animals are of captive origin. The occurrence of some of these samples in seemingly unsuitable Boreal habitat also raises questions.