Officials State Matunuck Cat Sighting Not a Mountain Lion; Witnesses Disagree

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management stated it does not believe Saturday afternoon's large cat sighting was a mountain lion, nor the deer carcass found a kill from a large cat.

Just after 2 p.m. this past Saturday afternoon, April 9, Matunuck resident Karen Stackow was taking advantage of the favorable weather by gardening in her front yard when something on the road caught her eye. 

“It went across the street and as soon as it hit the grass it was nearly camouflaged. It was exactly the color of that dead grass right there,” Stackow pointed as she knelt in her garden for an interview. “It had no markings on it whatsoever. No black ear tips, no other color than dead grass brown or tan, I guess.”

“We don’t believe this was an actual mountain lion sighting,” said Kurt Blanchard, Deputy Chief of Enforcement for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. Regarding Saturday’s report he offered, “They recovered a deer carcass that appeared to have had some feeding from what possibly may have been a bobcat and or coyote activity on the carcass.”

"A review of the carcass by one of our biologists showed no evidence of a mountain lion," said Gail Mastrati, Media Relations with DEM. "We have not encountered anything to support that claim."

Witnesses say that they are not satisfied with the DEM’s comments, and they believe they have a different story to tell.

Seconds after Stackow had her front yard encounter, Matunuck resident Chip Longo was taking a water break from a bike ride with his girlfriend on Matunuck Schoolhouse Road. 

“My girlfriend said ‘Chip look at that,’ and when I looked up this giant cat was in the middle of the road walking nice and easy like it just had a full meal and was looking for a nap… I swear the back paw was on the yellow line, and the front paw was leaving the pavement, just about. [Its body] was a good 4 feet long, with a long, slender tail just about as long…It stood pretty tall, about two and a half feet.”

Longo had been tracking his bike ride by GPS using his smartphone. On video, he provided a GPS-guided account of the sighting he and his girlfriend had.

On Matunuck Schoolhouse Road, a measuring tape showed the distance from the center yellow line to the road’s edge to be 8.5 feet.

In her account, Stackow noted the large cat to be approximately one-third the road width in length. The side street on which she resides measures 26 feet wide. She also described the cat’s tail as being about as long as its body, significant because bobcats are named for their “bobbed”, or short tails, according to National Geographic. Bobcats range in size from 11-30 pounds.

Shortly after their respective sightings, witnesses learned that a deer carcass had been found covered with leaves according to Stackow, Longo, and other sources. They reference the covering as significant, as wild cats sometimes cover the remains of a carcass if they plan to return to feed on it later on.

A 1998 study published in the American Midland Naturalist entitled “Behaviors of Bobcats Preying on White-tailed Deer in the Everglades” reports “Bobcats partially or completely covered 17 (52%) of 33 carcasses with plant litter.”

Both Stackow and Longo stated they knew how to distinguish between a bobcat and mountain lion, and they do not believe the cat they saw on Saturday to have been a bobcat.

As of press time Wednesday at noon, DEM biologists were not yet available for further comment on reported testimony.

On March 2, 2011, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a statement in which it declared the eastern cougar extinct. According to the release, reports of wild cougar sightings in the east have described subspecies other than that of the eastern cougar, such as western subspecies suspected to have migrated eastward, or others held captive and subsequently released.

The release directs readers to this link to frequently asked questions of cougar sightings.

There is a faint, nearly untraceable history of renegade cougar sightings in Rhode Island. A user posted in comments section on this backpacker.com article on where to see mountain lions:

I saw one in Scituate, RI in June of 09. Then April of this year, found a fawn carcass burried in the sand of the riding ring, at a stable in Exeter,RI. Two days after I removed the fawn, and it had rained, I found prints coming from the woods, through the ring to the very site the deer had been. The sand in that area had been dug & overturned. I've since started sharing my story with the locals & are finding more & more people have seen a cougar, or proof of one having been on their property. DEM claims we are mistaken,and that there are no cougars in RI. I beg to differ!!!!!!!!!!!! 
Posted: Sep 15, 2010 Rosemary Waterman

Witnesses acknowledged that individually, their claims might be hard to believe. Before conducting an interview on camera, Stackow expressed a general reluctance to comment, derived from a desire to not contribute to hype and incite fear in the community. She explained how she consulted local mountain lion proponent Bill Betty about her encounter.

“He made me feel so much better within five minutes of talking to him,” said Stackow. Separately, Longo expressed the same reluctance. 

Both Longo and Stackow conveyed a strong emphasis on the absence of fear from their minds during the encounter, and a desire for the public to coincide with their opinions. In fact, Stackow also vehemently expressed no intentions to contact any press regarding her sighting. It is clear that around town, residents and witnesses have been talking about the incident, as this reporter received a tip from a source external to the story.

“We were just going to brush it off because no one would believe us. That was when we were getting on our bikes to continue our ride, when a neighbor, Karen, came out from a side street, and said ‘Excuse me! Excuse me! Did you guys just see something crazy?’”

Longo recounted his thoughts the instant he caught gaze of the large cat.

“It was just walking across the street. In my head, I went through everything imaginable. It was so alien. I was like ‘What the hell is that? Is that a mountain lion?’ We had time to see it… six to eight seconds that we saw this thing. I was in such awe, I had my phone camera but I didn’t pull it out soon enough.”

Longo and Stackow, who had not previously been acquainted, decided to exchange contact information when Longo was on the returning length of his bike ride. They decided it prudent to place a call to DEM to report the sightings. Another neighbor placed the call, as the deer carcass found was on her property. 

“DEM called Sunday, and he came over and said there was another gentleman in the neighborhood who drove around in the afternoon, and he reported a sighting, so I would imagine they took four written statements,” Longo said.

Stackow demonstrated her impression that the DEM Police Officer who took her statement was in accordance with her opinion on the identity of the large cat. She explained that DEM officials had taken two scat samples in the area as well. According to DEM via Mastrati, the scat samples collected on Sunday belonged to a coyote.

Witnesses hope that time will provide conclusive evidence as to exactly what they saw. Both Longo and Stackow pointed out that their post-encounter research told them that wild mountain lions have an extensive home range.

According to a publication on the US Forest Service website, “Home ranges of 14 adult lions tracked over 12 months averaged 285 square miles. Those of females averaged 244 and those of males averaged 340 square miles.” The publication further discusses how mountain lions often prey on deer.

The US Census Bureau lists Rhode Island as occupying a land area  of 1,044.93 square miles.

Despite DEM comments, witnesses are not budging on their opinions.

“We really got a look at it,” Longo said. “This thing was just walking lazily in front of us. We just stood there with our jaws dropped thinking ‘Wow.’” He added, “It was probably 80-100 pounds, you know, a mountain lion.”

“I saw what I saw,” said Stackow. “And I know what I saw.” She also reported the cat as appearing to weigh approximately 100 pounds. Asked if it could have been closer to 50 pounds, she responded, "No way."

“This looked like a female lion in Africa, said Longo. “It had that gait of a lion. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Stackow added a neighborly, comforting plea.

“People live with mountain lions everywhere in the west… This creature was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and I’ll never be the same. It wasn’t like he was scary,” she said. “I want everybody to see him the way I saw him, because then they wouldn’t be scared.”

Nancy Dean April 14, 2011 at 02:12 AM
I have met many people who have claimed to have seen Mountain lion in RI. All of whom are very believable, intelligent and well educated persons. Do I believe them? Absolutely! There is a political and bureaucratic reason why the DEM will not admit that this was a mountain lion is all I can figure. Until there is a photograph of one we will all go on believing in the mystery, or not, and that is not a bad thing. Mountain lions stay hidden for your sake and ours.
stephen kelly April 14, 2011 at 12:11 PM
I spent time working in the mountains of Utah and Colorado and have experienced close contact with mountain lions. 10 years ago I witnessed a mountain lion crossing the highway in the mountains of western PA about two miles from my hunting camp. I stopped at a ranger station and reported it They smirked and said we do not have lions in PA. same BS that DEM is saying it is a coyote or bobcat. You were mistaken, I have been an avid hunter for 30 years I know the difference. Found out that there had been multiple sightings. the following hunting season we found a deer carcass with lion tracks in the woods, contacted the game commission they investigated and they now believe they have lions. They then issued warnings for hikers and campers. The problem is that lions tend to be aggressive. the reports of the lion walking on the road and hunting during the day in close contact with the witnesses would lend me to believe that it is a pet that has been released into the wild. This is more common than you think. Pet lions released in the wild are more dangerous than wild. These lions do not posses the hunting skills, nor the fear of humans. This combination can lead to major problems. Wild Lions tend to avoid humans unless hungry or cornered. Still it should be a point of concern. It will take a killing of livestock or a attack of a resident to bring this to a head. Better to be proactive than reactive. Remember we thought we didn't have Black Bears here in Rhode Island
James Voelker April 14, 2011 at 09:43 PM
I live on Heather Hollow Dr and from my office can look over Mill Poand. Last year around this time, I glanced out my window and there was a very large cat in the woods not 25 feet from me. It was walking away from the pond through the brush. My brother in law happened to be in the room and I said to him.."look at that" and he saw it too. It was, without a doubt, not large house cat Much much larger than that. As we started to look at it, it changed direction so that just it's rear was facing us, so other than the frist glance, I did not get a real good look at the profile. It was brown in color and blended in with the brush very well. I would guess it weighed about 40 lbs with the look I got. I also recall it seemed to have ears that were erect and pointed.
RhodeRash April 16, 2011 at 03:08 PM
I am a hunter who has seen several bobcats in SK (including one running across the street near the Pump House). There would be no way to confuse a bobcat with a couger (mountain lion). Visual Comparison http://laist.com/attachments/la_zach/bobcat-size-mountain-lion.jpg
stephen kelly April 16, 2011 at 04:43 PM
A Bobcat is much smaller, different coloring and is missing the long tail. A bobcat has tuffs on its ears, and tends to be grey in coloring. A cougar loves the swamps, tan coloring, small pointed ears darker in coloring, low to the ground with a long tail. they move very differently from a bobcat. they streach out into a loup movement. Once you seen one you will remember it. a 20 lb bobcat is reasonable, anything larger should be investigated. And there is no way you can confuse a coyote(DOG) with a cougar (CAT).
Moosette April 16, 2011 at 11:01 PM
It was definitely a mountain lion that we saw in the field on the right when we turned from Moonstone Rd onto Cards Pond Rd. My son did not believe our neighbor when she told us. He believes now! We called her as soon as we saw it. Beautiful! I believe the mountain lion was making its way back to the place where it killed the deer that morning when my neighbor and the bicyclists saw him. When its kill was not there it moved on and that is when we saw him. We watched him for at least a minute!
juswow April 18, 2011 at 10:08 PM
I would love to see the neocropsy report on the deer to see the depth and width of the bite marks. Thats IF they did a neocropsy.
Local Hunter April 19, 2011 at 02:49 AM
Ok... Trained biologist vs. 40 year old woman , who lives with her parents.....hmmmmm...tough call.
Amy Knowles April 19, 2011 at 01:23 PM
My husband saw a bob cat 3 weeks ago at Worden's Pond Campground. He only saw it for a brief second, but said it had spots, so....not a mountain lion. However, two years ago I know someone that did see a mountain lion in the campground. I know a few people that have seen a mountain lion, and these people know what they've seen. Just like Karen, I'm sure she saw a mountain lion. I would suggest a reporter speak to the Narragansetts. In particular, Craig Champlin. The reason I suggest him, is because last spring, at the campground, he started making these calls. At first, not a sign of a crow, nor a call of a crow anywhere. However, after about three mintues there were at least 30 crows circling ahead. Further, the Narragansetts have land in Charlestown favorable to wild life. If Craig Champlin says there are mountain lions in RI, then THERE ARE MOUNTAIN LIONS IN RI. Next time I see him, I'm going to ask him if he's ever seen one. He spends a lot of time in the woods, calling turkey, etc. Yesterday, I found bear scat down below our campsite along the tree line. I would suggest putting a chicken carcass out along a tree line, in some soft dirt, something that would leave a track. Were there any tracks found in the area of the mountain lion? I don't think there's a conspiracy on DEM's side, I just think unless one of them sees it, they are going to deny it. BTW, hi Karen if you see this.
Kate A. April 19, 2011 at 04:24 PM
I'll go with the 40 year old woman, and just about anyone else who actually gets off their chair, goes outside and opens their eyes.
Brian Maynard April 19, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Thank you Kate A. Whats with the derogatory comment about being 40 and living with ones parents! From what I read and personally understand the DEM biologist did not see the lion but at least four other individuals did, one of whom is a biologist and at least 2 are college educated. I hate to think somebody out there will consider hurting the creature. Let's drop it and let it live in peace. Better yet lets will it to leave the area for its own sake.
Binks April 26, 2011 at 01:17 PM
I work in the Matunuck area and have been hearing more and more credible reports of people seeing the mountain lion. I have not personally been lucky enough to see him, however I have seen bobcats and coyotes and no one is going to get them confussed with mountain lion. I also know there was a contolled burn of 50 plus acres of woods near Field 5 off Matunuck School House Rd just days prior to all the mountain lion sitings. I would not be at all shocked if "Local Hunter" was really "Local DEM" and is just upset that people don't believe DEM claims that there are no mountian lions here. Samething DEM said about the black bears until people got photographs and went to the news.
stephen kelly April 26, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Mountain lions are solitary animals. Their method of killing is usually with a powerful bite at the base of the skull, breaking the neck. The mountain lion, like the domestic cat with a mouse, will kill for the sake of killing. Male lions weigh up to 165 pounds and grow to more than eight feet in length. Females weigh about 100 pounds. Confirming a lion kill is accomplished by examining the carcass and noting areas attacked, bite marks, possible tracks, etc. This is difficult due to three natural processes: Carcass not found (totally consumed). Lions are opportunists, meaning they kill whatever is easiest. Lions are well known to kill the young, both of wild animals and domestic livestock. If a young calf or lamb is killed by a lion, most, if not all, of the animal is eaten. Consequently, no carcass is found. Decay rapidly eliminates evidence concerning death, especially in hot weather. A couple of hot days can eliminate most of the evidence detailing the cause of death. Further, scavengers accelerate the decay process. Terrain - heavy vegetation, such as timber and undergrowth hide the carcass. There are hundred of acres of woods,swamp, and brush areas in south county. A carcass can be easily overlooked. And, lions almost always bury their kills if they have time. buy the way so do black bear excerpts from By T. R. Mader Lion Facts sheet http://www.aws.vcn.com/mountain_lion_fact_sheet.html
KATIE May 11, 2011 at 03:24 AM
40 years ago, when people started seeing coyotes in this area, they were told they didn't exist. I guess we know how that turned out! The mountain lions will show us who is right eventually, even though they are much more reclusive than coyotes . We all know the difference between bobcats and mountain lions!
mike westman June 04, 2011 at 12:10 PM
About a year ago I was on my front porch (upper old succotash road in Snug Harbor) and saw a large animal. It was brown and (from 30 yards) was larger than a bobcat. It was crossing the road and saw me. It loped in three or four huge strides about two road widths and disappeared across the street. I was dumbfounded. I thought it was what they call a fisher cat. I lived in my youth in California and saw mountain lions. They are a lighter color but are of similar size. It freaked me out with it's large stride and speed. I am on a virtual straight line across the swamp from Matunuk about a mile from where the cougar was spotted. Something cat and big is out there. Not a bob cat. Saw those in Pa. and they are much smaller and run differently. There is my take on it!
hhtucker June 04, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Way back in the late 70's I saw a Fisher cross Tuckertown Rd. down near Stewart's Nursery. I knew a Fisher when I saw one from spending time at a relative's place in Maine. I was pretty excited to see one in RI and when I called the DEM to tell them they insisted there were *NO* Fishers in RI. They told me I must have seen a woodchuck or house cat. (what?!) A couple of years after, they admitted there was, in fact, a RI Fisher population. Just sayin'...I would believe the Matunuck residents who saw this cat before I'd believe anything the DEM tells me!
Cat Harrington June 12, 2011 at 11:41 PM
Mountain Lion was killed by a motorist in Milford CT. Pictures are available on the web (sadly). And many reports over the last month about Mountain Lion sightings in Greenwich CT....so the question is...was there enough time for the Mountain Lion to be in both place at the same time.....or are there two?
Natasha July 27, 2011 at 09:18 PM
My daughter rides a bike on Matunuck Schoolhouse Rd/ Moonstone Beach Rd/ Cards Pond – should I be worried? Do mountain lions attack children?
Carl Critz July 28, 2011 at 12:28 PM
Natasha, I think we've got just what you need posted on our site today - check out the Parents Council piece for more details.
Jennifer geaber August 28, 2011 at 11:15 PM
Local hunter what is your problem?
Jennifer geaber August 28, 2011 at 11:17 PM
She is one of the most intelligent women I have ever met. Not listening to her is to your disadvantage !
Lindsay Phillips August 29, 2011 at 02:29 PM
I saw a mountain lion four years ago in Cushing, Maine, while leaving a friend's house who lived on a dirt road. The animal was 100-200 pounds and had a long, sleek tail. I was driving slow and the animal was right in the middle of the road. It did not seem phased by my car and slowly walked off the side of the road about 10 seconds after I had to completely stop my car. There was no way this was a bobcat or a coyote! There have been confirmed mountain lion sightings in Maine, as well as Connecticut, so why would anyone be naive enough to assume they couldn't be in RI?! The DEM seems determined to deny anyone's claims of a mountain lion, I just don't understand why.
Rick October 27, 2011 at 06:23 PM
Apparently the environmental protection agencies in Nebraska, Utah and other western states that obviously have mountain lion populations also have or still do deny their presence. My guess is that having an entire new species to deal with is a lot of work for the squirrel police, and they also don't want people to freak out. So they belittle people who report sightings (even evidenced by a comment here).... or pretend that thousands of people keep apex predators in their living rooms as pets, which keep escaping.
Jason October 06, 2012 at 10:25 PM
I don't care to leave my name however I have a wildlife biology degree from the university of Rhode Island and I can tell you for certain 100% that I personally witnessed a mountain lion cross in front of my vehicle 10 feet away on glen rock rd. in Richmond . This was about 15 yrs ago but I've seen many species of wild cats in my life and career and would bet everything I own on the fact that they are in Rhode Island. They are very adaptable and seek food and habitat and whether it was just passing through or was there to breed I will never know. I would have never believed it if I didn't see it with my own eyes. It was at least a 90 lb couger/panther/mountain lion whichever term you prefer.A friend was also in my vehicle so my account was seen by her also.
tara bree February 21, 2013 at 08:25 AM
i seen one tonight!!! it ran right in front of me and into Shartners Farm. I turned around and drove with my a flashlight on the farm, and sure enough, there he was. He looked straight at us, turned and ran off. It was amazing to see, i am a firm believer they are in RI!!!


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