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Crying COUGAR: How Hoaxters Stymie Science



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?


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.

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