Mountain Lions Believed Prowling in New Jersey

Some residents of New Jersey think they have new neighbors, and it has them worried about their safety.

Dangerous, wild mountain lions have been reported roaming the streets where children play and wait for school buses in the suburbs of the Garden State -- the most densely populated state in the country.

Despite the increasingly common reports of sightings in New Jersey, it's hard to know if there is a need for concern, since the state's Department of Environmental Protection has not been able to verify these claims.

Northwestern New Jersey is known for its beautiful scenery and mountains where black bear, foxes, bobcats and coyote live and roam.

Christine Fitzgerald who along with her husband Shaun, a Vernon Township police officer live in a neighborhood filled with children in Glenwood. The couple is unwavering in their belief about what they saw early one morning last June.

"We went outside to see what was making loud piercing shrieks in the backyard," she said. "Fifteen feet away from us, we saw a large blonde female mountain lion along with a cub that had just killed one mother cat and two stray cats [the Fitzgeralds had rescued].

"We called the state Department of Environmental Protection to report the incident but it took investigators more than a week to respond to us," she said. "The state's slow response is evidence that the state does not want to admit there are mountain lions in New Jersey."

Officer Fitzgerald confirmed his wife's story, and added that the incident had an effect on how how he responded to calls from people who think they've seen one of the big cats.

"When I respond to a possible mountain lion call, I don't doubt what people see because I know what we saw was a mountain lion," he said.

Could Mountain Lions be added to the list of animals that may call the streets of the New Jersey suburbs home?

Mountain lions are indigenous to the western part of the United States. Cougar expert Dave Mattson, a lecturer and visiting senior research scientist at Yale University, has studied cougars since 2002, including mountain lions, panthers, pumas and catamounts, all of which are appearing more and more in cities and suburbs because development is encroaching on their habitat.

Another thing drawing to cougars to these areas is that there is a lot of shrubbery that animals such as deer and elk like to eat there, and cougars like to eat deer and elk.

"The cougars are following their meal ticket into communities and that is the reason for an increased number of cougar sightings," Mattson said.

Laurie Walsh, a New Jersey SPCA officer and president of CLAWS, a rescue shelter for cats based in Sussex, N.J., described what she saw drinking from a puddle in her neighbor's driveway two years ago in late August.

"I came out on my deck and I saw this young male, approximately 60 pounds, with a long tail that was tan and thought, 'This is definitely not a bobcat...' I had to do a doubletake. I really couldn't believe it," she said. "Now we are very cautious at night walking our dogs. We told our daughters to be very careful and watch going outside.

"People have to realize that's the way it is here," she said. "We have bears and coyotes, but I was really shocked when I saw a mountain lion. People need to face reality that they are here."

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