by Willow Lanpher
It was just after 6 a.m. Oct 11 when Cathy Summer Brown pulled off the Oregon Road onto Route 2 in Lunenburg and a catamount ran out in front of her truck.
"It was just awesome," she said. "I was so awestruck by it."
She said she stopped her truck and the animal ran up an embankment, but turned and look right at her. She said that even though she had a camera in the truck with her she didn't make a move for it.
"I just wanted to stare at it," she said of the cat. "It was a time to enjoy right then and there that moment."
District Biologist Cedric Alexander said Friday that he hasn't heard of any catamount sightings since Brown's. Even though his office gets them regularly, very few people will ever see a catamount in Vermont.
Senior Curator Howard Reed at the Fairbanks Museum said that they require a large area to hunt in, which means there can't be very many of them in the state of Vermont.
"It's not their kind of country anymore," he said.
The state only began keeping track of the sightings in 1991 and Alexander said no one really knows if the animals are trying to make Vermont their home, or just passing through but there is no evidence that the catamount has reestablished iteself in the area.
"At every given time there might not even be one in Vermont," he said.
He said there is a theory that they animals are being transported to the northeast from other areas and illegally released.
Because of that, as well as the catamount's fear of humans, Alexander said there is no need to worry about local sightings of the animals, that have been reported to attack toddlers and joggers. He said attacks by catamounts are rare and they occur in areas where suburbian development has pushed back into their habitat.
Reed said that, like most animals, catamounts would rather not be near humans and wouldn't eat one if they could. He said they would probably only attack if provoked.
"So if you see one, you let it go its way," he said.
The native americans, Alexander said, feared the catamount, known also as a cougar or mountian lion. They used to hunt and kill them as well, bringing fear to the catamount.
"That relationship between human and cougers over the centuries really caused the avoidance of humans by cougers," he said adding that now, with protective laws on their side, the catamount has no real reason to fear humans.
Though often confused with the smaller, darker fisher cat, the large cat-like catamount can weigh between 80 and 180 pounds and stand between two and a half and three feet tall. They are usually a tawny or golden brown color with a dark patch of hair at the tip of their long tail. Reed said the muscular animal is fast and often it is hard to positivly identify them because they don't stick around long enough.