There are certain topics that I know will draw strong reader reaction whenever I touch them. They include a few obvious candidates – climate change, vaccination, public water fluoridation – but there’s one that might surprise you: Mountain lions.

As I have written many times (this year or seven years ago or earlier ones that no longer exist online)  there is zero actual evidence that wild mountain lions exist in New Hampshire. No fur has been found on a fence, no indisputable paw prints found, no scat discovered, no prey that could only have been killed by a cougar (meaning a large carcass, such as a deer, that has been carried up into a tree) and most tellingly, no photos taken by the gazillion game cameras that fill our woods.

The only sensible conclusion is that the slow eastward spread of mountains lions has not made it to New Hampshire. That’s no surprise, since there’s no breeding populations anywhere east of Illinois.

However, lots of people are certain they have seen a mountain lion and they get really agitated when you answer their cry of “I know what I saw!” with “You know what you *think* you saw.” A lot of them will head into ConspiracyLand with arguments that the state knows the big cats are here but is hiding the fact because of something-or-other.

Sam Evans-Brown on NHPR bravely leapt into the fray last week with his “Ask Sam” segment – check it out here – which includes this bit of crowd psychology that I think is quite true:

Why are there so many false positives? I’d like to hazard the explanation that we really, really want to see a mountain lion. There are corollaries in other states. For instance, Florida’s wildlife officials have a similar ghost cat: the black panther.

“There’s never, ever, ever, ever been a documented case of a black mountain lion. And there are thousands of mountain lions killed every year legally through hunting, and there have been untold tens of thousands of mountain lions killed by hunters over the last hundred years,” says Mark Elbroch, the Puma Program Director for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, “So even the folks who live with mountain lions still have a fancy and see something that’s not there.”

Wishful thinking is a very powerful force. For example, it makes me think that human beings are basically decent and kind.


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