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The story below was taken
from the Times Globe, Wednesday, August 26/98
By Brian Kemp
Glimpses near a roadside or in the bush. A
sleek shape moving in the distance. A shrill cry echoing through the trees.
People who have spent time in New Brunswick's woods have
reported seeing and hearing panthers for decades. But the tales they tell are
like ghost stories: Panthers are elusive creatures, and so is any proof that
they are in our forests.
Like the wolf, eastern panthers
once called New Brunswick home, but haven't been here since the turn of the
century because they were killed off and habitat was cut down. Most experts
agree panthers weren't here in great numbers, but they were here.
Every year, residents from Saint John to Bathurst call
wildlife officials to report a sighting. Then scientists and Natural Resources
officers determine they likely saw a bobcat, a lynx a house cat or some other
But it's not just woodsmen and hunters
deep in the woods who are seeing panthers nowadays.
signs that one of the great cats lives among us are growing stronger and more
frequent, especially on the East Side of Saint John.
maybe the great comeback story - but a comeback story with a twist.
Scientists says it's no longer a question of whether the
panther is in New Brunswick, but a question of how many there are and where
they came from.
The evidence is mounting that panthers
live in our backyards and in our forests.
Constable Gordon Brown, a 27-year veteran of the Saint John Police Force. Just
ask the residents in the Latimore Lake area, some of whom are worried about the
safety of their children.
Early last Thursday morning, Const. Brown was patrolling
in his. cruiser on the East Side on Eldersley Avenue near Latimore Lake when he
spotted what he thought was a kitten or house cat on the road.
Seconds later, two more appeared from the bushes near the
roadway. One walked down centre line, then all three went into the bushes.
What Const. Brown saw next surprised him.
He had decided to turn the police car around and take another
look at the situation. As he drove, he kept his eye on the rear-view mirror.
Out of the bushes walked a big cat, golden brown, the size of a Labrador
retriever, walking smoothly, not more than a 100-metres away.
"You could strap a glass of water on its head and not see a
ripple, it was walking so smooth," Const. Brown said.
was a massive cat."
The cat was in a dip in the road, so
the officer could only see its top half. He could not say whether it had the
long tail which is characteristic of a panther, but is sure it was one.
Const. Brown turned the cruiser around and pulled up to the
spot where the cats disappeared into the thick woods, but saw nothing.
"There are woods all the way past Sr. Martins," he said. "You
could probably go to Nova Scotia through there."
checked nearby homes, which are only 50-metres or so from where he saw the
cats, to see if any children were out playing, but none were. Then he reported
his sighting to the Department of Natural Resources and was told the cats
should pose no danger except to small game and other animals.
This is the first panther that Const. Brown has run into
during his tenure on the force, but not the first animal.
"I've seen deer, moose and coyotes," he said.
Earlier this summer, he said, a couple of Saint John police
officers who are hunters familiar with the animals native to our area spotted
what they believed to be a wolf near the airport. They reported what they saw
to the Department of Natural Resources.
"It's like living
in the jungle," Const. Brown said.
Chris Graham would
The same day as Const. Brown's sighting,
Mr. Graham and Jennifer McNulty were walking a trail leading to a lake in the
Garnett Settlement area, perhaps 10 kilometres from the spot where Const. Brown
had his encounter.
After they turned back on the trail,
Mr. Graham - a hunter who has done some trapping - noticed rather large prints
in the mud. "The tracks weren't there on the way in," he said.
He wasn't sure what made the tracks, which measured more than
four inches across. "It was not a fox, coyote, bobcat or lynx," he said.
Later, as they were walking back to their car, the couple
heard an animal off in the woods shrill loudly twice.
When Mr. Graham returned home, he checked a reference book
and discovered that the prints he saw resembled those of a panther and the
shrill noises that he had heard could have been made by a panther.
Mr. Graham went back the next day and took pictures of the
prints and found scat (animal droppings) which he believed were from a panther
and took them to the ranger station in Hampton.
are cougar pictures," he said.
'The rangers "were quite
excited" by the evidence they saw, he added.
Panthers are sleek, efficient hunters that can
bring down a deer, or even a moose.
They are one of the
top predators, not including man, wherever they live. They feed on white-tailed
deer, porcupines, beaver, squirrels, mice and birds. They don't often attack
humans, but have been known to do so.
Male panthers weigh
as much as 70 kilograms, while females are smaller, sometimes reaching 45
Panthers, or cougars as they are known in
Western North America, once ranged from the tip of Chile to the Yukon on both
sides of the coast.
Panthers are thriving on the west
coast, but the documented eastern population has shrunk to only 60 or 70 are
left in Florida. Classified as an endangered species in the province, they are
solitary animals except when mating or raising kittens.
Rod Cumberland, provincial wildlife biologist, said it was
highly unlikely that Const. Brown saw a panther, "especially in an urban area."
For seven years Mr. Cumberland "traipsed around the
province" looking for signs of the cat.
But none of the
reported sightings turned out to be a panther.
Parker, a retired scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service who recently
published a book, "The Eastern Panther," agreed with Mr.Cumberland's
Mr. Parker suggested Const. Brown likely saw
Despite all of the sightings there is no solid
evidence, such as a carcass or roadkill, that there is an established panther
population in the province, Mr. Parker said.
said there are panthers in the province, but they have probably escaped from
wildlife collectors in Maine or elsewhere in New England, a hotbed for illegal
animal collecting because of lax laws.
He said the
panthers are most likely passing through area, adding, "Panthers can easily
travel 100 miles."
As a result, estimating the big cat's
population in the province has been as elusive as proving its presence.
The Canadian Wildlife Service gets 20 to 25 calls from people
in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick per year but has yet to receive
concrete evidence panthers are calling this area home.
Seven years ago, a Department of Natural Resources biologist collected scat in
the Juniper area which tests showed contained panther hairs. A sample of that
scat has been sent to California for examination.
Parker acknowledged that Const. Brown's sighting of a mother with kittens
raised some interesting possibilities. He suggested the province was a good
place for the panthers to reestablish themselves, providing a good mix of
forest and food prospects such as deer.
"We know there
are cougars here," said Don McAlpine, the curator of zoology at the New
He said many biologists who thought
that the panther was not present in New Brunswick have changed their tune in
recent years due to the amount of sightings and other evidence such as hair was
found in Juniper.
He too believes the panthers escaped
or were released by collectors who may have decided their "pet" was growing too
big to handle.
Karen Lunn is preparing to move into a mini-home on
Latimore Lake Road.
Her 21-month-old son Trevor stands
looking into the thick bush behind the trailer.
Lunn, who also has a nine-year-old son, said the family spotted some tracks
near the trailer last month and believe they were made by a panther.
"I'm worried about the kids," said Mrs. Lunn, adding that
there are a number of young children who live in the area.
When asked about panthers, Rose Lunn, who lives in a house
just up from Karen, said, "Everyone sees them."
Parker said residents don't have to worry about the animals, saying they had
more of a chance of dying from a bee sting than being killed by a panther.
Looking up Eldersley Avenue where Const. Brown saw the big
cat, Fred Gray is no skeptic on the subject.
long-time resident said he has been seeing panthers in his area for the past 40
years or so, perhaps as many as 15 times.
bother anyone," he said he met up with a panther on the street in the middle of
the night while walking home from work. He said the panther looked at him and
them moved on.
He said he doesn't tell people about his
"People just don't believe you. It's
the same as seeing a flying saucer."
Speaker years ago had slides of
three eastern panther dens in our area
Story by Willis Flynn
Saint John, N.B.
I am prompted
to write after reading a number of articles on the eastern panther and the many
sightings in our picture province.
What surprises me is
that what I have to say has not been reported before.
begin the tale, I am now nearing my 69th birthday. What occurred happened when
I was in my early 20s, so I may be somewhat vague on a minor point or two, but
the gist of the incident remains quite clear in my memory.
My two friends and I attended a meeting of the Fish and Game
Association. This meeting was convened at the 100F hall on, I believe, Germain
Street. The purpose of the get-together was to listen to a gentleman from the
State of Washington who was a recognized authority on the various types of
panthers in North America. His name eludes me, as do many manes, due to the
passage of time, but the facts are quite clear to this day.
First of all, the guest speaker's address was accompanied
with slides shown on a projector. This man, via the screen, was to show the
audience evidence of three panther dens in this area of the province. I can
remember two of the locations, the first being just outside the city at
Coldbrook and the second in my memory was in the Musquash area.
What was of interest was the fact that the slides were taken
when the ground was covered with a number of inches of snow. This allowed the
speaker to show very clearly the one identifying mark of the big cat that is
duplicated by no other animal, that is the distinct mark of the heavy tail in
the snow with each step.
If this is not proof for the
most sceptical we were than shown a large clipping from Nova Scotia newspaper -
Halifax, I believe. The story accompanying the picture explained that the man
portrayed in the snapshot was visiting a member of his family in New Brunswick.
He decided to go hunting and had a very strange encounter. Thus, the caption
above the picture read, "Strange beast shot in New Brunswick woods."
The photograph depicted a man standing in a open barn door
and hanging on his immediate left was a large eastern panther. I believe the
year was 1929, long after the animal was declared extinct in the province. I
have no doubt that this picture is in archives in Nova Scotia, Halifax
I have spent a great deal of time in the woods.
Once, while traversing a path on the side of a large hill, I heard the most
ungodly noise coming from the opposite side of this small mountain. The noise
could have been only emanated from a confrontation between a bear and a very
large feline. I had no doubt that the two were disputing who had the right of
way. I never determined the victor, as when the area of the argument was
reached all was quiet.
As a further anecdote, the son of
a good friend of mine had an encounter in a field. The cat in this instance was
of the black variety and darted into the adjacent woods upon seeing the person
The one thing that we all agree on is that
the panther is one of nature's most shy creatures and will remain as secluded
as possible at all times.
But, if their natural habitat
continues to be decimated at the current rate and the population continues to
increase, then they, like the the black bear for one, will encroach upon
Click here for more
on the Eastern Cougar Mystery.
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