The puma and the goldfish

July 27, 2011 • 5:42 am

by Matthew Cobb

Two tales (tails?) of animal resilience, from opposite sides of the world. One finishes well, the other not so well.

First, the puma. In the middle of the night on 11 June, a young male puma/cougar/mountain lion (they are different names for the same beast) was knocked down by a car in Connecticut. That’s surprising (and sad), as this was the first puma to be seen in the state for a century – the animal is now largely restricted to the western part of the USA.

Amazingly it turned out that the DNA from the cat matched samples that were taken from the Black Hills region of South Dakota, a couple of years ago. That’s from a region that’s about 3,000 km away. And there’s an awful lot of urbanized land in between – including the Chicago area (maybe it crept past underneath Jerry’s window?). [EDIT: As the poor thing was neither de-clawed nor neutered, the vets reckon he is a genuine wild animal, and not an escapee…] [EDIT by GCM: the genetic match was not just with the South Dakota source populations, but with samples from an individual lion which had crossed through Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2009-2010, so we know part of the actual path it took.]

Poor dead puma being examined
Map: BBC

Although the obvious solution is that the puma walked that distance, maybe it was a hobo-puma and jumped on a train? Isn’t that what those two dogs and the siamese did at one point in The Amazing Journey? Or is my memory in a bad way?


The goldfish story is a tale of survival under the grimmest conditions – the aftermath of the terrible Christchurch earthquake. The quake claimed 181 lives and destroyed much of the city. Now there’s an uplifting coda – two goldfish, now named Shaggy and Daphne after the characters in Scooby Doo, have been found alive in their 26 gallon tank which was in an office in part of the city that was closed off for safety reasons.

They were not fed during this time, and no filter to clean the crap out, but they were still alive. The story is not quite so cheery though, as there were originally six fish in the tank. One was found belly-up, the other three are missing, presumed eaten, though I suspect they may have been sloshed out of the tank during the terrible quake.

31 thoughts on “The puma and the goldfish

  1. the obvious solution is that the puma walked that distance

    A far more parsimonious solution is an escaped or freed captive, it seems to me.
    I’m reminded of Darren Naish’s ‘big cats of Great Britain’ posts.

    1. That was my thought, too — the poor guy was captured (catnapped?) in the Black Hills and illegally kept as a “pet” in Connecticut.

      The Phoenix Zoo has an old mountain lion; her name is, “Camille.” I’ve always gotten friendly vibes off her…in distinct contrast to the bobcats on display a hundred feet to the south of her….


        1. Hmmm…I’m not seing any edits, even after reloading the page. Killed in Connecticut; DNA from Black Hills past Jerry’s window; picture and map; hypothesis and movie reference. Then goldfish.

          Maybe a re-edit…?


          1. Ah — now the edit is there. No surgeries. Still could have been a capture, just not for a cuddly pet — “beware of cat,” private unlicensed zoo, that sort of thing.


          2. Well Wikipedia quotes this “On April 14, 2008 police shot and killed a cougar on the north side of Chicago, Illinois. DNA tests were consistent with cougars from the Black Hills of South Dakota. Less than one year later, on March 5, 2009, a cougar was photographed and unsuccessfully tranquilized by state wildlife biologists in a tree near Spooner, Wisconsin in the northwestern part of the state.” So I see no reason why it should not be a genuine wanderer.

        2. “As the poor thing was neither de-clawed nor neutered, the vets reckon he is a genuine wild animal, and not an escapee…”

          DVMs are prone to making odd statements like this one… even those who work with wild animals from time to time.

          As an outdoor biologist, w/forty plus years ‘in the field’, that line of thought is a new one on me! I know quite a few wildlife professionals who have dealt directly with mt. lion reports in the Northeast over the years, and I’ve never heard that reasoning from a one of them. Or heard a report of a found-cougar in the NE that presented either of those altered conditions.

          The NE population has been declared extirpated by USFWS. These animals are (all) thought to be abandoned pets.

          BTW, the central DNA source for these animals suggests more a breeding source than a location. So less Black Hills; more someone’s backyard in Alabama.

          Still, cougar reports — w/image — are always interesting. Thanks for the posting.

          1. Is it really that easy to have such a pet Snowy Owl? We have strong restrictions on ‘dangerous’ pets in the UK, designed to stop that sort of abandonment. People should not have such wild animals as ‘pets’ & they should never be de-clawed.

    2. Though your idea is quite plausible, it is actually _less_ parsimonious as it posits a new entity (a captor) for which there is no evidence.

  2. Now I see the past sentence of the linke BBC article sez

    scientists said the cat was neither declawed nor neutered, suggesting it was not an escaped or released captive.

    …and maybe they’re right.
    I’m skeptical.

    1. As noted below, additional reports claim to have recovered DNA matching this individual animal from Minnesata and Wisonsin (link to press release (.doc file) here.
      Wow. I guess it really did walk to Connecticut!

  3. Were catamounts (they apparently have more names than any other animal!) really distributed across the eastern seaboard? If so, might that have not been their original range – did they move in when other bigger predators became extinct?

    1. I think they were native to the eastern US. IIRC, early European settlers wrote about them (calling them “lions”.)

      Wikipedia says they were eradicated from the eastern US (except Florida) in the early 20th century, but it doesn’t surprise me that a few are still around, or have moved back in. There are more deer there than ever, and deer are one of their favourite prey.

    2. Even after extirpation from all of Eastern North America, they still have the largest native range of any New World mammal. map

      Here‘s a nice map of recent North American sightings (and other evidence).
      Milford, CN is a big surprise!

      1. I still would hazard a guess that their large range must have matched the spread of humans as the large predators became extinct. For example short-faced bears are supposed to have stopped the spread of Ursus arctos horribilis, so too might the Panthera atrox and other cats have restricted the range of the puma – or perhaps rather their numbers.

        1. I’m not sure they were in much competition with the other large predators — bears and wolves — although the eradication of wolves probably boosted the numbers of deer somewhat. Their main enemy has been humans (and our hunting dogs).

          Apparently they do compete with jaguars in some areas (obviously south of the US).

          1. I take the point but was really thinking late glacial up to about 10,000 years ago when humans spread.

  4. Re: “The Amazing Journey”

    IIRC, the title is “The Incredible Journey”.

    I don’t remember the animals jumping a train. There may have been a canoe ride with the folks who were harvesting wild rice.

    Also, I think the distance traveled by the trio was about 100 miles.

      1. Well, which version are we talking about? The 1963 original, set in Northern Ontario? Or the 1993 remake, which moved the setting to the California Sierras? (As well as expanding the title, and turning the cat into a Himalayan)

        My life-long love of Siamese cats traces back to being taken to see that film (ie, the original) when I was six.

        1. I read the book as a kid and read it to both of my kids. (The author said it wasn’t intended as a kid’s book, interestly.) Haven’t seen the movies. So they changed the name for the movies? Whatever for?

          1. I also read the book. The 1963 movie kept the name and follows the book fairly closely, with occasional voice-over narration. The remake amended the title to “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey”, anthropomorphized the animals by having them “speak” through voice actors, but otherwise preserved most of the major plot points. In homage to the book, the family who owns the animals is called “Burnford”.

  5. I’m fascinated by that photo:
    Tongs and a steel hone, forceps over the sink with soap dish and pretty curtains in the windows …

    Is this a lab, clinic or kitchen?

  6. A dear friend of mine hard-documented (pic and sound) a puma in San Juan island, Salish Sea,WA. The animal(s) probably swam from somewhere or piggybacked a log. These stories are frequent in the Georgia Strait, Salish/Puget Sound archipelago systems.

  7. I should note that an updated version of the story suggests that lab work in Missoula, Montana indicates that DNA from the animal was found in puma samples (though they didn’t discuss what the samples were, they were likely feces or hair) in both Minnesota and Wisconsin the two years before his death. So, long-range disperser is looking very probable.

  8. Why does everyone assume the cat went south around the lakes? The northern route through Canada is about the same length, and a lot less urbanized.

    1. It’s probably not the northern route through Canada because he would be unable to get back into the U.S. without a passport. 😉

      Interesting story, nevertheless.

  9. A year or two ago, I saw a large cat here in NW NJ, which I think very likely was a mountain lion. I did not get a good look, as it ran across the road in front of my vehicle maybe 30 feet ahead, and quickly left visibility in the vegetation on the other side. But it was at least coyote-sized, which is what I thought it was at first, until a few seconds later my brain processed the fact that its paws were huge and distinctly feline. It was too large to be a bobcat or lynx, which are the only other two large cats likely to be in this area.

    I find the notion that all such sightings are escaped pets rather unconvincing, but not outrageous.

  10. About a decade ago, I saw one of these munching something or another on the side of the road in New Hampshire (i lived in the middle of nowhere). Amazing to see such a thing in the wild. My favorite memory of my 2 years in NH.

  11. I like to think that the puma was stalking a child at a highway rest stop, but the child got into a car and the family drove east. Denied a tasty meal, the puma tracked them all the way to Connecticut.

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