Are catamounts really extinct? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Are catamounts really extinct?

Rutland, Vermont - March 4, 2011

The University of Vermont prides itself as catamount country, and the predator cat is a popular name in Vermont.

"There's Catamount beer, there's Catamount trails, catamount this, Catamount Health, as I say, there is just a lot of mystique about this animal in Vermont," said Doug Blodgett of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Dept.

But now the catamount is officially extinct. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department said earlier this week the population most likely vanished in the 1930s.

"If we had a breeding population here in Vermont we would know it, we would have evidence of that," Blodgett said. "That they readily leave behind tracks and scat, kill remains, those type of things, even though we have been looking, we can't come up with those things here in Vermont."

The last documented sighting of a catamount in Vermont was in 1881. It was shot by a hunter on Thanksgiving Day in Barnard. The catamount is on display at the Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier.

"It's just a beautiful, powerful, charismatic, top predator, and it really is the ultimate symbol of wildness," Blodgett said.

Wildlife officials here say the catamount population declined sharply in the Green Mountain State as Vermont established itself as a farming state.

"So what was once, when the first settlers first arrived, which was mostly forest in the state of Vermont, it became mostly cleared for agriculture and that eliminated the primary prey base for catamounts," Blodgett explained.

Even though it is believed the catamount has been extinct for decades, people still claim to see the big cat on the prowl. Vermont Fish & Wildlife says it investigates 50 sightings a year. Many are determined to be false sightings-- simply other big cats. But they have not ruled out that some of the sightings were actually catamounts.

"I think it is a plausible explanation that one of these animals, either it could have been intentionally released or an escaped pet, that could explain these rare, but credible sightings," Blodgett said.

So for now the only known catamount on the prowl in Vermont is Rally Cat, the mascot at the University of Vermont.

"There's a lot of people who would really like for there to be catamounts in Vermont," Blodgett said.

Matt Henson - WCAX News

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