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He's been "hunting" cougars since 1965.

COUNTRYSIDE: I have been investigating cougar/panther sightings since 1965 and have amassed over 6,500 reports from every state east of the Mississippi River.

In 1995, COUNTRYSIDE ran an article on our search for the ever elusive cougar. To my surprise, my article generated over 1,000 responses of sightings from residents in 31 eastern and mid-western states. The eastern and mid-western cougar phenomena is not new. Non-aggressive native cougars, also known as mountain lions, pumas, ghost of the forest, deer tiger and the American lion, have inhabited the forests of the eastern U.S. for centuries. At one time, 27 sub-species of puma were spread across North America. Due to unwanton slaughter of these cats by early white settlers, over 20,000 were killed during the 1800s. Today, less than seven subspecies continue to roam the U.S., with the majority of about 15,000 in the Rocky Mountain States.

Based on wildlife officials claims, the native puma was wiped out by the late 1800s east of the Mississippi River. I became involved with the big cats as a news reporter for WFBR Radio in Baltimore, Maryland during the mid-1960s. This was after a series of barnyard attacks by a predator that crept within feet of occupied farmhouses, attacked and dragged off its prey without any sound. Plaster casts of confirmed cougar tracks were made by Maryland State Troopers and confirmed by the late Dr. Ted Roth, Assistant Director of the Baltimore, Maryland Zoo in 1965. Maryland State Game Officials disputed his conclusion and went public with their claims of "No cougars in the state." Since that time, I have become an expert on the subject, but have met with opposition from every state and federal wildlife agency as to the continued survival of "native" cougars in every eastern states.

The attack problem is not due to the native pumas that continue to inhabit various areas of the eastern U.S. Though state officials will deny the events, documented sightings have been reported to independent puma researchers in Florida and neighboring states. Based on data from Eastern Puma Research Network (EPRN), of which I am Founder/Director, other known areas of native pumas are in the Ozarks, (probably roaming Florida panthers [cougars]), New York's Adirondack Mountains, Great Smoky National Park, Virginia's Shenandoah National Park and in every National Forest across the eastern and mid-western United States. The new attacks on people are due to the infiltration of the larger, more aggressive western cougars that have been released by wildlife extremists and possibly some wildlife agencies, to control the huge deer herds in the east. There is now a concentrated effort on the part of a new science movement and championed by few individuals in cougar groups to introduce "western" cougars into the east. (EPRN has documentation on this idea).

The EPRN has been against this "new" idea since its inception. EPRN's position is why bring in more aggressive cougars, with the likelihood of increasing human attacks, when there are already in place, non-aggressive native eastern cougars?! This "new" idea or movement will only cause massive amounts of trouble to an already complex mystery that has existed, but been ignored by state/federal wildlife officials, who have "buried their heads in the sand" for 40 years. We have written numerous articles of various lengths on this subject in the last 40 years.

The EPRN has available a free flyer entitled, All You Need To Know About The Native Eastern Cougar. To obtain a copy, send a SSAE (business size) to: Eastern Puma Research Network, HC 30 Box 2233, Maysville, WV 26833. Our 24-hour hotline: 304-749-7778 or e-mail: EPRN's web-site: www.epumaresearch

Here are a few more details concerning a "new" study that was conducted quietly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently.

They commissioned the study as an effort to save the increasing number of native and transplanted western cougars belonging to the Florida sub-species, Puma concolor coryi. Twenty-plus years ago, less than 150 native cougars (known as Florida Panthers) survived in the Everglades, their last holdout territory that once extended through all of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi.

With its small gene pool, inbreeding was occurring, resulting in more sickly cougars. In order to expand the gene pool, captured Texas and western cougars were transplanted to Florida. In the last five or so years, this idea has resulted in an overabundance of "offspring." The increasing number of offspring along with the present number of existing cats, has resulted in the state cougar population now exceeding 250 big cats. This is much too high a number for their shrinking Everglades homeland. That means new areas must be found quickly so the population can continue their survival. Along with this idea, the natural instincts of some transplanted western cougars in Florida has resulted in their seeking larger forested areas--and they are on the move north and westward.

Though no native Florida Panther (cougar) has ever been known for an attack on a human, the larger transplanted western/Texas cats have had isolated instances of attacking barnyard animals and a few humans over last 50 years. The above mentioned study found the most promising sites for reintroduction of the now increasing numbers of Florida cougars to be the Ozark and Quachita National Forests in northwestern Arkansas. These sites were selected due to low people populations, dense forest cover, absence of roads and an overabundant number of deer and wild pigs. The latter are the principle food supply of the cougar.

Individuals of some eastern cougar groups are quietly supporting the idea of reintroducing western cougars into the eastern U.S. forests. Please be advised the Eastern Puma Research Network does not support nor believe in this idea, since an adequate number of non-aggressive native cougars already exists in several eastern states. We will continue to give you updates on this and other matters pertaining to the native eastern puma, also known as cougar, mountain lion, deer tiger, and ghost of the forest.--John A. Lutz, Director, Eastern Puma Research Network, Maysville, West Virginia;; www.
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Title Annotation:Country conversation & feedback
Author:Lutz, John A.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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