Whenever I hike, I can’t help but remember the conference about Connecticut mountain lions I went to last year. Hundreds of tacks, each representing a single mountain lion sighting, were pinned into the giant map of our state. The United States Fish and Wildlife/Department of Environmental Protection declared the eastern mountain lion to be extinct in March of 2011.
This year, Bo Ottmann and Dr. John Pettini of the Northeast mountain lion research group Cougars of the Valley are producing a whole new campaign to really boost the chances of finding indisputable evidence that mountain lions are living and breeding in Connecticut.
Since 2007, Ottmann and other members of his initiative have been traveling and doing research on mountain lions within the Northeast, investigating and educating the public along the way.
Ottmann’s new campaign entails using 20 high-definition trail cameras to capture live mountain lion footage. “It takes night video as well, their [range is] good for 30 to 40 feet and it also captures audio,” explained Ottmann in an interview. In addition, each trail camera is set up with a GPS tracker device to guarantee accuracy of the image’s location when captured.
To lure the mountain lions close to the camera, Ottman and his volunteers are sticking Velcro strips around the camera on surrounding trees and covering them with mountain lion urine and scent gland spray. In theory, the mountain lion should rub up against the Velcro – depositing hair in the fibers for a DNA test – and also function as a chance for the camera to get a good long look at the subject before it darts away.
Ottmann and Pettini will be in charge of maintaining the Connecticut trail cameras, while Bill Betty, another expert and activist on mountain lions, will be responsible for the Rhode Island trail camera initiative.
The campaign is running on Indiegogo, a crowdsource fundraising website much like Kickstarter. It offers contributors multiple levels of donation amounts, ranging from $5 – $1,000. Each donation level offers the contributor some sort of kickback, whether it be your name on the website, or a small group dinner with a presentation from Ottmann and Betty. One donation level even offers a trail camera of your own, with personal one-on-one instruction from one of Ottmann’s team members.
One of the main reasons Ottmann and his colleagues are producing this campaign is to convince the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection of the existence of mountain lions in Connecticut. As a small group and as an individual, Ottmann and his team can only do so much. Eventually the state must step in to fund its own animal control contingency plan, educate their staff to deal with mountain lions, and develop outreach plans for the public.
One of many fears is that state action will only take place after someone has been attacked or possibly killed by one of these wild animals. This is why there is a sense of urgency behind Ottmann’s campaign. While Connecticut may not seem the likely candidate for mountain lion territory, Ottmann claims it is actually the ideal territory:
“Territory is designed by three things, habitat, food and water. Connecticut has an amazing habitat, the highest population of white-tail deer [the main food source for mountain lions] in New England and a lot of water. This is a country club for cougars; it’s perfect. If I was a mountain lion, I’d want to live here.”
Ottmann’s campaign ends on December 8. In this year alone, there have been hundreds of mountain lion sightings in New England. With the public’s help, Ottmann and his team could provide hard evidence to the state. For now, whether the elusive mountain lion exists in Connecticut is still up in the air, however, this very campaign could bring the facts to light.