Possible mountain lion near Hammonton

A large cat captured in pictures and video in Winslow Township near Hammonton is not a mountain lion, state wildlife officials say.

WINSLOW TOWNSHIP — The township’s animal control officer has received reports of sightings of a large cat near the Hammonton border, a cat that the witnesses believe is a mountain lion, the Camden County township reported Monday.

However, officials from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife said Monday they believe the animal is a house cat.

Township officials said there have been no reports of any contact between large cats and people, but they are asking that “everyone use sound judgement and reasonable precautions with their children, pets and themselves.”

The township released a grainy video of an animal that looks like a large cat and a grainy photograph taken with a hunter’s game camera. But neither allows for a definitive identification, township officials said.

Department of Environmental Protections spokesman Larry Hajna said Monday that state Fish and Wildlife officials who had seen the photo and video said the animal is a house cat.

Western cougars are believed to be expanding their range, and Tennessee wildlife authorities have confirmed that a cougar was documented in Wayne County for the first time in September.

“Every year we get 10-12 reports (of suspected mountain lions),” said Andrew Burnett, principal biologist with the state DEP’s Upland Project.

No one ever seems to come up with scat or track marks to verify the sightings, he said.

But in 2011 a mountain lion was struck by an SUV and killed in Greenwich, Connecticut, he said. The fact that a cougar could be found in such a densely developed area, close to New York City, astounded laypeople and scientists at the time.

A mountain lion, also called a cougar, had been spotted in Wisconsin in 2009. Some DNA was collected there and in Minnesota, and mountain lion scat was found in the Lake George, N.Y. area in 2010, officials said.

Later DNA tests proved it was the same animal killed in Connecticut, according to officials there. Yet the animal had never been seen between Wisconsin and the time he was hit.

That lion was a young male, like most cats that venture far from the closest breeding population in South Dakota, said Burnett. It had traveled about 1,500 miles from its birthplace.

It was 150 pounds and about 6 feet long without the tail, he said.

Burnett said there have been increasing numbers of verified cougar sightings in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.

“But that’s a heck of a lot closer to South Dakota” than we are, he said.

In 2006, attacks on horses in Middle Township and Woodbine, including a horse owned by Woodbine Mayor William Pikolycky, led some to believe there may have been a mountain lion in the area.

But the DEP later said photos of the injuries ruled out an attack by mountain lion or other beast. The DEP said the injuries were likely caused by the horses striking against objects.

Often people see bobcats, which are known to live in New Jersey and are considered endangered by the DEP, but mistakenly think they have seen mountain lions, said Burnett.

But bobcats have much shorter tails and are much smaller creatures.

The DEP describes the bobcat as “a medium sized-cat, about 2 feet tall, larger than a housecat, but much smaller than a cougar or lion. Adult females in NJ generally weigh between 18 and 25, pounds while adult males can weigh as much as 35 pounds.”

They are known to be very shy of people, according to the DEP, as are mountain lions.

The township is also asking for the public’s help in locating the animal by reporting any sightings or evidence to the township’s Animal Control at 609-567-0700 ext 1500 or animalcontrol@winslowtownship.com/.

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In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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