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Experts Say Cougars Could Be Making A Return To Upstate New York

NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) -- Big cats could soon be returning to New York.

Years after the Eastern Mountain Lion was declared extinct, its western cousin may be moving into some of its old territory.

Cougars, like the ones at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, have been detected on the move outside their usual habitats in North and South Dakota.

Some scientists say we should expect them back in Upstate New York before too long.

"That would make sense. In a lot of these areas they're being re-forested, so we're creating the habitat for the wild animals that used to be there including the Mountain Lion," Brint Spencer, Director, Turtle Back zoo said.

It would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago when experts at first scoffed, then marveled at the appearance of a large cougar in Connecticut, that it turns out walked here from North Dakota.

"I think it's fascinating and terrifying," one woman said.

Greenwich residents still remember the cougar that came to town three years ago, but they don't seem anxious to see more of them.

"It's kind of romantic that they're coming back, but they are dangerous animals," Bob Dickey said.

Cougars may be attracted by a plentiful food source, deer.

"No forget it. A cougar's scary. Deer are sweet," Kate Glenon said.

If and when the cougars return they will probably stay far north except for the occasional loner looking for a mate. Experts say they can't survive around us.

"They'd run into the cars. Cars are an apex predator that will take out just about anything," Spencer said.

That is exactly what happened to the Connecticut cougar of 2011. It was killed by an SUV on the Merritt Parkway.

Young male cats do all of the long distance traveling, and conservationists have suggested that humans may have to help things along by moving some females into the new habitats. Even then it could be decades before they return in any numbers.

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