The Eastern Panther
As a guide, I have always been alert for the rare and unusual in the wilderness. This page continues an ongoing survey of eyewitness encounters with wild panthers in eastern Maine. (If you have seen one elsewhere in New England or eastern Canada, I am interested in that information anecdotally also but are not equipped to tabulate data over such a wide area. Feel free to add it to the survey, but we may not be able to report on sightings beyond Maine.)
If you reached this site after reading the feature in the Bangor Daily News of 4 December 2010, thank you for making the effort to find us! If you haven’t seen that article yet, click the link and have a look. [SEE MORE BELOW OR PROCEED TO THE SURVEY PAGE]
WHAT’S IT CALLED?
Whether called panther, cougar, puma, mountain lion, painter, catamount, or any of several other names, it’s the same animal, Puma concolor. Some regional subspecies have been generally agreed-upon, from Florida to Wisconsin to the Canadian Maritimes. (A panther, however, is not the same species as the jaguar of Latin America or the leopard of Asia and Africa.)
What’s in a name? Other names are equally valid, but for consistency this site uses the name “eastern panther” because that’s the name recommended by New Brunswick wildlife biologist Bruce Wright in his 1972 book, The Eastern Panther.
WHY DO IT?
First of all, this effort is dispassionate. Various other web sites are dedicated to the recognition and re-introduction of the species in the eastern USA and Canada (see ECF and other links below). Most are not collecting sighting data, however. I have no objective to accomplish except to let the eyewitness accounts speak for themselves and, if I can collect enough data, to plot sightings over time for a rough population study. If these accounts are convincing to some readers and not to others, then some readers are persuaded and some are not; end of story.
This site does not have a latent objective to promote panthers as a game animal to be hunted as coyotes are, (although it’s tempting to advocate that the first six that are shot in Maine would be permitted in order to provide evidence for direct study). I don’t have a hidden objective to prevent further timber harvesting in Maine by advocating wilderness preservation to protect animals that apparently are maintaining a healthy presence in the midst of present harvesting. I’m not trying to make the case for some mythical beast. Since I have seen two of them, however, I do want to be believed. Look at the stories I’ve collected and draw your own conclusions, and if it serves your motives and if your motives are passionate, I am dispassionate about that as well.
We have no interest in promoting spurious claims, nor in discrediting anyone either. I want to be credible, and it is plain that many, many other people who have seen them want to be credible too.
It makes no significant difference to the ecosystem whether the cats that people are seeing are descended from released pets or whether these are a returning remnant of an original (“native”) population. A panther is a panther, and whether one specimen is of one subspecies while another individual cat is of a different subspecies is of no concern to a deer or moose calf. All are members of the same species and are generally able to reproduce with one of the opposite gender from any other population or subspecies.
The accounts received from eyewitnesses now describe a panther in Aroostook County as far back as 1959. If any of the eyewitness accounts can be believed, not to mention all of them, then there is a self-sustaining population across eastern Canada south of the St. Lawrence, and the panthers in that region are unaware of the international boundary and the body of Maine land that nearly separates the provinces of Québec and New Brunswick.
Even though in many eastern states from Alabama to New York to Maine, state wildlife authorities grudgingly admit that there is enormous evidence for the existence of panthers/cougars in the wild, they do not acknowledge breeding populations except in Florida. (Legislatures and bureaucracies are not required to make the logical “leap” that for wild animals to exist, they must breed. That sort of linear thinking is left to scientists and common folk.) To their credit, Illinois has had two documented kills in recent years and Kentucky has had one, so they both have moved beyond denial.
While the species is federally protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, in most eastern states, if it’s acknowledged at all, it’s described as “extirpated” – wiped out.
In eastern Canada, the panther is more positively acknowledged and managed accordingly.
WHAT LED TO THIS?
This survey comes about for several reasons.
First, in 2002, I came upon some tracks in the snow while hunting alone east of my home.
Second, in 2003, I saw one up close six miles from my home. Follow the above link for tracks for more information about both these encounters.
Third, in 1974, while driving not far from the place of the 2003 sighting, I saw one cross Interstate 95 a quarter mile ahead, but too distant to be convincing to anyone else. (It was easier for someone to doubt my eyesight.)
Fourth, at the time of that 1974 sighting, I was a student in the Wildlife Management B.S. program at the University of Maine. I sought academic backing to pursue graduate-level study of the panther in Maine but was denied support. Now, having had a load of personal brushes with them and finally possessing the resources to pursue further study, I’m beginning my graduate “research.”
The survey has no political agenda. It’s not about environmental activism. It’s not about being pro- or anti-hunting. It’s about science, in the old-fashioned manner of a naturalist studying something dispassionately. Being as scientific as possible without outside support, it is chiefly an attempt by one qualified individual to investigate the experience of others who have met up with this rare animal and to make that information available to anyone else interested in the findings.
HOW WE’LL PUBLICIZE THIS SURVEY
1. Use existing connections to announce in publications such as the Northwoods Sporting Journal.
2. Include a link in magazine or newspaper articles.
3. Small posters in barber shops and mom-and-pop stores.
4. Courtesy links at other web sites.
5. Announcements at colleges in the area.
6. Entertain user suggestions for other methods.
HOW WE’LL USE THE DATA
(Recognizing that it may take years to reach a volume of data that can be analyzed…)
1. Publish results in tabular form at this web site, rating reports according to reliability.
2. Map reliable sightings, which may, with enough data, suggest patterns or movements.
3. Offer written updates to various print media from time to time.
4. Do some field investigation in areas with multiple sightings over a brief time span.
5. Make data available to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and other interested agencies.
6. Make data available to interested college programs in the area.
7. Entertain user suggestions for other uses.
There are other sites that take a rational approach about the existence of panthers in the eastern USA, including the ones below.
Gyekis Forest Management
(link to Pennsylvania research)