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Crying COUGAR: How Hoaxters Stymie Science

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Can you tell the difference between a hoax and a legitimate sighting? These people couldn’t …

Cougars. Mountain lions. Catamounts. America’s apex predator could once be found from sea to shining sea, but overhunting and habitat loss supposedly eliminated them almost entirely from the Eastern states. Emphasis on “supposedly.” The states’ residents know better; highly credible evidence of the big cats’ return to the Adirondacks is everywhere. It’s frustrating that state wildlife agencies continue to insist that the cougars aren’t there, but they do have some reasons to treat cougar sightings with a grain of salt the size of El Capitan: hoaxes.

Today, we’ll highlight “the other side of the story,” and demonstrate what sorts of breathless reports that (for example) the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife finds in their e-mail inboxes every Monday morning. Can you tell the difference between truth and trickery?

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Over the last 10 years, the Internet has made it exceptionally easy for people to generate mountain lion hoaxes. A hoaxster typically uses a legitimate mountain lion photograph taken in another state then claims the image was taken in Kentucky.

Some hoaxsters find it amusing to scare people with false claims backed by photo “evidence.” Others believe the information is true and spread it without questioning whether it’s real. Following are photos used in the most widespread mountain lion Internet hoaxes in Kentucky. Before forwarding a mountain lion “report” to your friends, first scroll down and see if any of the photos match. ​ ​

mountain lion dragging a deer next to a camera
Hoax:  This is one of the most widely circulated mountain lion hoax photographs circulating on the Internet today.
The hoaxster claims this image was taken in Kentucky or a number of other states in the eastern U.S.

The Truth:  This is a real photo – – but it was actually taken in south Texas on Feb. 15, 2009.

Man holding up a large paw of a mountain lion man smiling and holding up a head of a mountain lion
The Hoax:  Several people contacted the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Information Center after a hoaxster
claimed this mountain lion was killed around Cadiz in western Kentucky.

The Truth:  This is a real photo of a mountain lion struck and killed by a vehicle in northern Arizona
in the winter of 2007.

mountain lion walking through an lane in a woods
The Hoax: The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Information Center received many emails of the above image in 2011. Most people believed this trail camera image was taken in eastern Kentucky. Some claimed it was taken on Black Mountain near Cumberland, while others gave the location as Knox County.

The Truth:  This is a real photo of a mountain lion in western Montana.  It was taken by a remote camera
in the summer of 2010.

black leopard walking through a grassy field
Internet Hoax:  The KDFWR has received many emails of the above image with repeated claims that the image was captured by a remote trail camera in Pendleton County, KY in December 2013 and Whitley County, KY in February 2015.

The Truth:  This image is that of a melanistic (black phase) leopard that was photographed on a remote
camera within a captive facility located in South Africa.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Terry

    January 6, 2023 at 1:13 pm

    In 1986 I lived in Vicksburg Mississippi. I hunted the Shipland WMA between there and Greenville Mississippi. I was doing a walkabout deer hunt one day and cut a trail out toward the Mississippi river. I was returning to my truck near sundown through a thick canebrake and kept hearing something following me. I got back across the road from where my van was parked and sat down on a tripod stool I carried. I was watching the place I had just walk out of (it was almost dark then) when I saw something coming toward me from the canebrake. I pulled down on it with my 308 and then saw it wasn’t a deer. I could barely see it in the dark and thought it was just a large dog. Then it turned toward me from about 30 foot away and screamed like a banshee. It was a black panther that wasn’t supposed to be there either. I left my gear and backpack and everything else except my gun, sprinted to my van about 30 yards away, and hauled ass back home. When I came back the next morning I found the paw prints around my stuff. I have been shot, stabbed, and had other amusing things done to me in the US Army, but, I have never befor or since been as scared as that.

  2. Paul

    January 6, 2023 at 11:50 am

    Well if they “don’t exist” seems like there would be no problem in harvesting them and no legal problems either, since they “don’t exist!

  3. JRM

    January 5, 2023 at 7:22 pm

    Just like the Oregon Fish and Wildlife adamant there were “NO WOLVES” in Southern Oregon and California Fish and Wildlife adamant “NO WOLVES” in Northern California..

    Even though paw prints were found, “ABNORMALLY LARGE COYOTE PAW PRINTS” was the “LIE”!!!

    Hunters and ranchers spotted them, again “ABNORMALLY LARGE COYOTE’s”!!!

    OR-7 caught them in the “LIE” and proved “THEY WERE LYING”!!!

  4. David

    January 5, 2023 at 4:44 pm

    My neighbor and I have them on camera (game Cameras), and I turned in cat scat for DNA testing that was sent into Lincoln Ne. and it came back as everything matches to a mountain lion. Local game and parks Staff denied this as a true sighting and that the scat looked like a very large bobcat scat. If you compare the two scats you can normally, tell the difference. This was before Nebraska admitted that they had breading pairs in Nebraska. I know a train crew that hit and killed one with their locomotive. They stopped their rear end to pick it up. One member of the crew took it home and put it in his freezer. Federal game officers said we know you have a cat in your possession. Give it to us and nothing more will be said. He surrendered it to them. That cat had some tag or collar tracking mechanism showing the feds location, and if it was alive or dead. Rumors started circulating that Nebraska stocked them to help keep the deer population in check. Last year a cat collared in Nebraska was killed in Illinois. Young male cats travel long distances looking for a female to breed. This was in a time frame of less than a year. Big males kick them out of their area to be dominate. I have no doubt that cats are moving east of Nebraska, and it is very possible for other states to have them. When I have a cat in my area the deer herds leave overnight. I look for cat sign and usually find it. Deer will not return until the cat has left the area. We had a young tom laying down on a river bridge blocking traffic. The car occupants took pictures and gradually had the cat move off of the bridge so they could continue. He was not afraid of anything. Ranchers further east along the river had young colts with claw marks on their flanks. Hunters started to see deer kills up in trees. The scat I found near my deer stand looked like a donut shape. The outside of the ring was void of grass and the grass was scratched inward to cover the scat. The scat had segments along a diameter about the size of your thumb. It looked like a giant tootsie roll with hair in it. The inside of the donut shape was like an island undisturbed with scat lying on it and covered with the grass scraped to cover it. We have had cats from Wyoming, and South Dakota travel through. We now have a hunting season on them to try to control their numbers. Please don’t use my name or location.

  5. Alan

    January 5, 2023 at 2:41 pm

    They have been saying the same thing up in New Hampshire and Vermont. I have seen two personally and tracks to back it up. They say I’m mistaken and saw something else. I know what I saw and they are there. Problem is. They spend too much time sitting behind the desk or in a vehicle. It could also be they are worried that the public would panic or some crazy reason.

  6. Orion

    January 5, 2023 at 11:12 am

    His tail was longer than his body and looked like he’d dragged it in mud. I learned later they’re tipped like siamese. He cleared 21ft of pavement in a single bound from shoulder to shoulder, and then was gone in the next ninjalike smooth fluid hop. I still get excited remembering it.

    It’s not just industry that doesn’t want overarching govt. ruining our parks and habitats. I reported a personal sighting near a wildlife management area to Virginia DWR and was told by the then regional director that they don’t exist because VA can’t afford to have them, because of the hugely high cost of any endangered species report. We don’t want the corrupt globalcorp owned feds locking us out of our managed lands so they can steal the resources to sell to their leaders in china…so they don’t exist. I saw nothing.

  7. Richard Gwaltney

    January 5, 2023 at 10:15 am

    Hoaxes are out there. i have no doubt. But I know too many good ol’boys with trail cams in Charlton County Georgia that have pictures of Florida Panthers (as they are called here) Like I have said before the pulp wood cutters and those that live off that industry DO NOT WANT any area designated as a habitat for an endangered species.

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