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Wildcats still prowl the Adirondack woods
January 15, 2013 - Don Williams
The new-fallen snow provided an opportunity to look for “cat” tracks. There they were, criss-crossing through the trees and across the yard.
No, they were not those wildcats — panthers, mountain lions, cougar, puma, painter or catamount — whose tracks are being sought and reported throughout the Adirondacks. The tracks I observed in the snow were made by the resident population of feral cats. There is not much interest in them, but it appears there is widespread interest in the existence, or not, of “cats” in the Adirondack wilds.
The last I heard, New York state’s official position is that there is not enough evidence to say we have cougars living in the Adirondacks. On the other hand, reported sightings continue.
In December 2010, a cat, later confirmed as a cougar, was spotted near Lake George. It was later killed by a car in Connecticut in June 2011. The hardy animal had travelled from Minnesota, a trek of more than 1,000 miles. Apparently, the cougar was just passing through, looking for a place to call home!
Reported sightings of Adirondack wildcats are nothing new. I have a story resurrected by Fulton County Historian Peter Betz that tells of an Indian/wildcat encounter on a Lake George island. Native American Sampson Paul was out spearing fish when he sighted a panther swimming toward him. He stopped fishing and began to throw stones at the threatening animal.
The cat was undaunted and boldly advanced on the Indian. The also bold Paul poked with his spear and put out the eye of the cat. He then speared the still-advancing cat in the throat and held him underwater. The drowned panther measured seven feet three inches from the tip of the nose to the end of his tail. The cat sighting in this story was reported 186 years ago, and sightings have been made ever since.
Bobcats are another story; they have been in the news over the years. The late Bill Harris shared some photographs with me of a wildcat killed up in Hope. It was about three times the size of a house cat and appeared to be a bobcat. It may have dated from the 1940s. Another photograph in my collection came from the western Adirondacks near Tug Hill country. The reported bobcat weighed more than 38 pounds and was 38 inches from nose to tail. Again, the photo is undated, but it is probably mid-20 century.
The bobcat population of today allows for some game management regulations. In the Adirondacks, the season for the taking of bobcats by hunting and trapping is now 16 weeks. The bobcats’ population had been on the increase, and their range has been expanded. That accounts for some of the cat sightings.
I have not seen a list of today’s cat sightings, but in days gone by, lists have appeared. Once the bounty on wildcats, which accounted for the taking of hundreds, was discontinued in 1894, sightings were reported. The list includes a wildcat at the Elk Lake Club in 1908, one at North River in 1914, and others in 1897, 1902, 1909, 1911 and in 1950.
A “visiting” panther was killed near Fort Edward in 1974. The Leader Republican newspaper in Gloversville reported a story of an Adirondack panther that frightened a lumberjack back to Canada in 1917.
In my estimation, sightings of wildcats in the Adirondacks will continue and, much like the other creatures of the wild, they will choose the time and place where they will settle. Keep on looking!
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Bobcats can weigh more than 30 pounds and are generally twice as large as a common house cat. The state Department of Environmental Conservation bobcat management plan estimates there are about 5,000 bobcats in New York. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife)