Fish and Game Needs Physical Evidence to Verify Mountain Lion Sighting

Residents in the Derry area are on edge after multiple reported sightings of a mountain lion in residential areas near South Range Road.

But New Hampshire Fish and Game has seen no physical evidence or photos of any such animal. Instead, a Fish and Game biologist has seen photos of bobcats and domestic cats that some Granite State residents thought were mountain lions.

“A few of us have seen it,” said Cheryl Holbert, who lives on Berry Road in Derry. “I was taking a walk, as I usually do, and where Miltemore Road meets South Range Road, I looked up and saw a large animal in the road. The only way I knew what it was is from having seen a taxidermy mountain lion. I did not see his face, I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I saw its tail very clearly, and it was very long, touching the road.”

When Holbert got home, she immediately searched online for information about mountain lions in New Hampshire. On a blog, where residents post alleged sightings, she discovered that earlier that same day, July 23, someone had posted a sighting not far from the Berry Road woods.

After learning from local animal control there wasn’t much they could do in response to what she had witnessed, Holbert called the New Hampshire Fish and Game Wildlife Division.

“I quickly was shut down. I was told there hasn’t been a sighting since 1850, and we need physical evidence,” she said. “They said they don’t have the resources to investigate.”

About a week after her run-in, Holbert received a phone call from neighbor Shane Pelletier of Windham.

“It was about 150 pounds. The one feature that has you in awe is the tail – it was about 3 feet long,” Pelletier said of the feline he observed stalking the edge of his property near the woods. “It’s something you would almost have to be in a zoo to see.”

Pelletier said the animal’s head was turned out toward his neighborhood. He watched the animal for a little over a minute before heading back inside with his young daughters, who had been playing in the backyard before they were startled by loud noises the animal was making in the woods behind their home.

“We could hear it out in the woods for probably a half hour. The cat was absolutely in no rush. It wasn’t startled, it was right in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” he said. “My main concern was seeing all the signs going up for cats and dogs missing all along the Windham Rail Trail.”
Like Holbert, Pelletier said he was informed there hasn’t been any confirmed mountain lion sightings in New Hampshire since 1850.

“But the reality is, there have been numerous sightings all over New Hampshire in the last decade,” he said.

In 2012, a video captured outside a Manchester elementary school of what many think was a mountain lion almost caused the School District to shut down an outdoor barbecue event for students and staff.

And in 2011, a mountain lion that had traveled more than 1,500 miles from South Dakota was killed on a Connecticut highway.

“Why is Fish and Game so hesitant to even acknowledge the fact this could be a possibility and alert people?” Pelletier asked. “If you look at the various sightings reported, this animal has been in my area for up to three weeks. I haven’t let my kids out in the yard for two-and-a-half weeks. I think we should be having town meetings to alert people.”

“To date, we have had bobcats, domestic household cat and other cat species reported as mountain lions,” said New Hampshire Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Pat Tate. “I have received many pictures, where the picture doesn’t match the description they gave me. I have seen 20-pound animals that were reported as 80 pounds, and 4-inch tails that were described as 3 feet. We can’t verify a report without any physical evidence.”

Tate said he’s not dismissing the possibility there could be a mountain lion in New Hampshire, he just needs physical evidence to investigate and confirm the reports.

“Anything is possible,” he said. “There are situations where people have reported physical evidence and we have gone and investigated. We do go look when there is physical evidence.”

Unfortunately, Fish and Game officers also have to sort through hoaxes, in addition to earnest reports.

“We get about four to five hoaxes per year,” Tate said. “I often receive photos of mountain lions I find online.”

Tate said New Hampshire Fish and Game doesn’t get into the debate of whether or not mountain lions exist in the Granite State.

“There are believers and nonbelievers. If you want to see a heated debate, put a believer and nonbeliever in the same room,” he said.

If a resident does come in contact with a mountain lion, Tate advises standing tall, looking straight at the animal, and backing up slowly. Don’t run away.

Tate noted there are many well trained hunters and trail cameras in the area of Derry where the mountain lion was allegedly spotted.

“If there is a mountain lion, sometime in the next couple months they’ll record a picture of this animal. It won’t get by without being recorded,” he said. “If there’s one out there, eventually some type of physical evidence will turn up. And at Fish and Game, we’re not bashful. There will be a press release sharing the evidence if it has been verified.”