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Mystery Animal Spotted in Bronx Is Rodent-Eating Weasel, Expert Says

By Eddie Small | June 25, 2014 7:39am
 46th Precinct officer Derek Lenart snapped a picture of the rodent in the Bronx.
46th Precinct officer Derek Lenart snapped a picture of the rodent in the Bronx.
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Derek Lenart

BRONX — Call it the Concourse chupacabra.

A mystery animal has been spotted in The Bronx by an eagle-eyed NYPD officer and one expert says it's a fisher — a weasel rarely seen in the New York area that feasts on porcupines and other rodents.

Fishers are well-suited to hunt New York City rats, according to Roland Kays, director of the biodiversity lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who reviewed a photo of the animal sent to him by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

46th Precinct officer Derek Lenart was driving near Bronx Community College one morning about two months ago when he saw the unfamiliar creature dart in front of his car.

 Fishers are dark, long-haired, large members of the weasel family, according to DEC.
Fishers are dark, long-haired, large members of the weasel family, according to DEC.
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Flickr/USFS Region 5. - US Forest Service

"I was like, 'What was that?' It wasn’t a raccoon. It wasn't a possum," he said. "It was really kind of like, 'I've never seen this creature before,' so I started driving after it."

Before the animal scurried away, Lenart snapped a photo. He thought it was a mink, but his mother, who lives in a rural area south of Albany, told him it looked like a fisher to her.

"Once I saw pictures of it online, I was like, yeah, that’s what it is," the officer said.

Fishers are large, long-haired members of the weasel family, according to the DEC.

Their large feet and claws make them easily capable of climbing trees and killing prey including mice, squirrels, rabbits and even deer. They have no natural predators.

Fishers — found from Virginia to Quebec and in the forested regions of the northern, eastern and southeastern parts of New York state — are also the only known mammal in North America capable of killing and eating porcupines, according to the DEC.

"They will consume the entire animal, leaving nothing but a quilled hide and a few of the larger bones," according to the DEC's website.

Other people have told Lenart they have seen the animal, too.

Kays, the zoologist, wrote about the sighting in a recent blog post and said he believes the photographed animal was “absolutely” a fisher based on its size, shape and build.

Although he said he was surprised to see one in The Bronx, he expected more of them to eventually live in the borough. 

“The overall trend in the area is that their populations are increasing and that they’re using more and more urbanized environments,” he said.

Fishers once lived in Manhattan but disappeared quickly because of the price their furs fetched, Kays said. The last fisher sighting in the New York City area probably occurred in the 1600s, he said, stressing that seeing one fisher did not mean the weasels had an established population.

Urban fishers would face challenges like avoiding getting hit by cars.

“We’ve never seen them survive in anything as developed as the Bronx, so we don’t know,” he said. “Can they really set up a population?”

The animals “pose little threat to people, Kays said in his blog post.

While Kays was certain the animal Lenart spotted was a fisher, DEC special assistant Rodney Rivera was less convinced. The photo of the rodent was too low-quality to know for sure, he said. The Bronx would not be a suitable habitat for the species, as they usually live in forested areas, Rivera added.

The city's Animal Care & Control and ASPCA declined comment about the sighting.

Lenart said he was excited to see an unfamiliar animal in New York City.

"Down there, I wouldn’t expect to see some new form of wildlife," he said.