Big Beasts


Occasionally we hear about mountain lion sightings in the Hudson Valley. And within short order, the stories are usually debunked.

While the DEC states that New York has not sustained a native population of mountain lions (aka cougars) since the late 1800s, the agency does admit there have been occasional, verified sightings of mountain lions that escaped from licensed breeding facilities in the state or, in one very special case, a male cougar who passed through New York on an epic 1,500-mile trek from South Dakota in search of a mate. His quest ended tragically in 2011, when the 140-pound beast was killed while trying to cross a Connecticut parkway.

So while there’s little likelihood you’ll spot a specimen of our nation’s largest cat (even if one is around — they’re extremely shy and excellent at hiding), you have a better opportunity of seeing several large mammals that, while not exactly common, do have a definite presence in the region.

The most prevalent of these are black bears. The DEC estimates that some 3,000 of these hefty omnivores — males weigh up to 300 lbs., females a little over half that — reside in Southeastern New York. Sightings in Westchester and Rockland counties have become more common. In the mid-Valley, black bears wander into backyards with some regularity.

The best way to keep them off your property is to limit their access to food by keeping trash cans lidded, fencing the compost pile and taking down bird feeders once spring arrives. (State law forbids the deliberate feeding of bears.)

If you plan to hike or camp in “bear country,” read these DEC guidelines for avoiding conflicts.

While they lack the heft of cougars, bobcats still elicit a thrill when spotted. Roughly twice the size of house cats, they sport black tufts at the ends of their ears and a stubby (“bobbed”) tail. Bobcats live on both sides of the Hudson, especially in the Catskills and the Taconic Mountains, on the valley’s border with Massachusetts. They roam widely for prey, primarily deer and rabbits, but tend to seek out rocky ledges and rock piles for shelter and breeding.

Bobcats are extremely shy and rarely aggressive, so it’s unlikely you’ll need to take any defensive measures if you’re lucky enough to spot one.  

And that brings us to New York’s largest land mammal — the moose. Once prevalent in the Valley, they became extinct here by the late 1800s. As populations in their home range of northern New England have expanded, they’ve begun migrating southward in greater frequency.

Today, they’re occasionally reported in the region and have become permanent residents in the Taconic Mountains. (Still, your best bet for seeing a moose in NY is the Adirondacks; consider a road trip to one of these sighting “hotspots.”) The best time for moose watching is at dawn and twilight, when they feed. Be sure to keep a respectful distance.

Despite their usual shyness, a threatened moose will attack and definitely can outrun you. The last thing you want is to be chased by an angry, 1,400-lb. beast with 6-foot antlers, so give them a wide berth.