Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reports of Dead Mountain Lion are a Hoax

We received a unusual media announcement from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) spokesperson David Winchell yesterday pointing out that a heavily circulated photograph of a dead mountain lion in the back of a pick-up (left) is in fact a hoax. The e-mails typically claim local forest rangers have seized the animal in order to bolster arguments that there are no breeding populations of mountain lions (also known as panthers, pumas, catamounts, or cougars). The most recent message (and this has circulated a number of times on internet message boards) claims the cougar was recently hit by a vehicle near Black Brook in Clinton County. The message also claims that New York Forest Rangers responded to the incident.

“This photo and messages first appeared in Western New York in December 2009 claiming that the mountain lion had been killed in Erie County,” Winchell told the Almanack. “Since then, the false reports have moved across the State claiming the dead mountain lion was found in various locales and now has arrived in Northern New York.”

In their media release, the DEC pointed out the following factual inaccuracies with the picture and message:

* Inconsistent Location: Some messages claim that the cougar was hit on Savage Road – there is no such road in Black Brook or in most of the other locations in which it has been reported. Also, no wildlife/vehicle collisions involving a mountain lion have been reported to DEC, in Black Brook or any other locations in New York State.

* Inaccurate Information: The hoax message claims that game wardens, Environmental Conservation Officers, or forest rangers responded to this incident. This is not true. No DEC officials responded to a cougar/car collision incident this past weekend, because there was not one that occurred.

* Photograph Lacks Detail: Like so many of the hoax cougar photographs circulated before this one, this particular photo being circulated conveniently lacks defining features indicative of location. For instance, it conveniently covers the truck’s license plate and lacks background landscape that would indicate region. The dog crates shown in the back of the pick-up truck are popularly used to transport hunting dogs. It is much more likely that this photo is a hunter’s photo taken somewhere out west.

* Circulation: This identical photo has been sent in other areas of the country and state, claiming alternative local locations and explanations of the incident in the text portion of the message.

The question of whether there are wild populations of these big cats has been a long-standing and controversial one. We reported on the issue way back in December 2005.

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