Eric Orff was a wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game for 31 years, most of it as “furbearer biologist”, and he was an early user of the World Wide Web to disseminate information to the rest of us. He has retired now but he maintains his online presence, including chats in a YouTube channel.

He’s got one (here it is) that talks about mountain lions, including reports of cougars (different term for the same animal) being spotted throughout New Hampshire back to the 1950’s.

Orff talks about why he doesn’t believe them. In a nutshell, it’s due to lack of hard evidence (carcasses, game camera photos, DNA from scat, fur samples caught on a fence, etc.) that exists for other elusive animals out there, like lynx and fishers. This lack doesn’t convince people who are sure they’ve seen a cougar, but it’s the reason for extreme skepticism of any report.

Orff’s best story starts at about 4:00 in the video, talking about two hunters in a N.H. tree stand who saw a mountain lion below them. “They watched a mountain lion defecate, and collected it,” he says. He submitted the scat for DNA analysis and found … drumroll, please … “It came back as bobcat.”

“Somehow this mountain lion that was observed and sworn to by a hunter in a tree stand produced bobcat scat,” he concluded.

And that’s why I don’t believe all the sightings you hear about, even when they’re from experienced outdoors people. Humans are lousy observers, and wishful thinking can overwhelm our senses and our memories.

It’s not impossible that a random male cougar is passing through N.H., and someday breeding populations will arrive from out west – they are slowly moving our way. When that happens, we’ll have real evidence.

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