Big cat reports have Connecticut residents talking

Tom Chiari

Norman Rudzinski, of Thompson, remembers the piercing screech of the mountain lion he says he saw roaming his property a few years ago.

“It made the hair on my arms stand up,” he said. “I thought I was seeing things. I thought, ‘Man, that’s a big cat.’ ”

Though there have been no confirmed sightings in Connecticut in decades, a number of recent reports of mountain lion sightings across town have residents and officials concerned.

“I’d hate like heck to see anything bad happen here,” First Selectman Larry Groh Jr. said. “Numerous people now are saying they’ve seen a mountain lion. I hope it’s not more than one.”

However, witnesses describe an animal unlike others native to the region.

“We receive many, many reports of mountain lions and have for decades, but we’ve never been able to verify them or it’s always been a different species,” said Paul Rego, a state Department of Environmental Protection wildlife biologist. 

He said mountain lions live in Florida and parts of the Midwest, and people often mistake coyotes and bobcats for mountain lions.

“I grew up here and I don’t remember ever seeing one or hearing about it,” Groh said. “It only came up recently.”

Resident John Salkiewicz owns a farm near the Woodstock town line. He has seen what he believes is a mountain lion and heard several others talk about seeing one as well.

“There are coyotes and bobcats around, but this is clearly different,” he said. “There’s no mistaking what it was.”

Salkiewicz said a logger working on his property saw the animal sunning itself on a rock a month ago.

A neighbor also told him he saw the cat dragging a deer carcass through the woods a few weeks ago.

The animal he saw, he said, was the same tawny color as a deer, but smaller.

Rudzinski, who owns 107 acres near Labby Road and up across the Massachusetts border, described a similar animal the size of a large Labrador retriever, but with a sheer, black coat of fur.

“It was jet, jet black and really well groomed,” he said.  “The tail was probably two-and-a-half to three feet long with a twist at the top.”

Rego said mountain lions could be distinguished from bobcats and coyotes by their long tail. They are also much larger than either bobcats or coyotes, he said.

“We’ve had many instances where people provide a good description of a mountain lion, but the footprints or other evidence doesn’t support it,” he said.

Some sort of documentation, such as a photograph of the animal or a clear photograph of a footprint, would help the DEP determine if it is a mountain lion, he said.

“It’s hard to predict behavior since there’s a good chance the animal comes from a domestic or captive source,” he said.

As general advice, though, Rego said people should stay away from the animal.

Norwich Bulletin