Forgive me if this is just spreading rumor, but at a party last night, it was suggested that a cougar had been sighted nearby - just a few miles from where we were standing - in New Jersey.
When asked to describe New Jersey, most people outside the state think of oil refineries, urban sprawl and the infamous New Jersey Turnpike. But we live in the Skylands region, known for its rugged, mostly rural beauty. So when talk turned to the possibility of local cougars, no one was outwardly surprised. We've all seen red fox and coyotes, and black bears have been well documented.
The huge deer population here makes it even more plausible that mountain lions have followed their prey into our area.
If it's true we have big Jersey cats among us, we first need to get this name thing straight. Cougars, mountain lions, panthers, pumas, and catamounts are all names for the same thing. In the Florida swamps they're called Florida Panthers (creative huh?) and as a whole they're referred to as American Lions.
Frankly, there's only one name we could possibly give to mountain lions in Jersey - Big Pussy - out of respect for the ill-fated Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero of Sopranos fame. And should our Big Pussy misbehave by taking down a six year old waiting for a school bus or by walking off with mom's favorite tabby, it might suffer the same fate as the fictional character - sleeping with the fishes. We don't mess around here in Jersey.
In a sort of light-hearted nervousness, the party conversation turned to preparation for our own close encounters. Trying to get an accurate description of what to look for, someone suggested "it is about the size and color of a shaved golden retriever." Frankly all that conjures up for me is an image of a very cold dog - a not-so-dignified description of our noble Big Pussy.
Here's the official description from The Mountain Lion Foundation:
"The mountain lion has a tan-colored coat, much like the African lion. The most recognizable feature of the cougar is it's long and heavy tail, which measures almost two-thirds the length of the head and body. Male lions typically weigh 110 to 180 pounds, while the females are slightly smaller, weighing 80 to 130 pounds. The mountain lion should not be confused with its cousin, the bobcat (a smaller cat of about 22 pounds), recognizable by its spotted coat, pointed ears, and short tail."
So what makes Big Pussy so different from other predators we know to be in our area? First of all, unlike foxes and coyotes, mountain lions have been known to shed their fear of humans and in some cases, view us as a two-legged main course. Here's one man's account of his own close encounter with a mountain lion.
Frankly, I'm more inclined to believe Jersey mountain lions have been spreading dark rumors in an elaborate protection scheme. "Yo, it would be a very unfortunate thing if yer little house cat was to suddenly disappear."
So until I see one for myself, or read some official documented evidence, I'm going to assume that mountain lion sighting on Petticoat Lane was just a golden retriever having a bad hair day.
Mountain lions in Jersey? Fagetabotit!
Then again, there is this to ponder.
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