Monday, April 4, 2016

Experts: Cat In Crown Point Video Is House Cat, Not Cougar

cougarsThe state Department of Environmental Conservation has concluded that an animal shown in a Crown Point video posted online last week is a house cat, not a mountain lion.

DEC placed a life-size cutout of a mountain lion in the area where the animal was filmed and determined that the animal was small enough that it could have passed under the belly of a mountain lion. (See photos below.)

DEC announced its findings in an email this morning, a week after the video had attracted attention online.

Three wildlife scientists from Panthera, a nonprofit organization that works to conserve the habitat of wild cats around the world, came to the same conclusion after reviewing the video, according to Christopher Spatz, president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation.

“They all suggested it was a house cat, judging by the gait,” said Spatz, whose organization favors restoring cougars to the East and other parts of the country.

In particular, the animal’s mincing trot near the end of its appearance in the 18-second video convinced the three scientists that it is not likely a mountain lion.

“They just don’t trot like that,” Spatz said of mountain lions. “The cadence just doesn’t seem right.”

cougar 1Spatz identified the three scientists as Alan Rabinowitz, the chief executive officer of Panthera; Luke Hunter, the organization’s president and chief conservation officer; and Howard Quigley, director of its puma program. (Puma, cougar, and panther are synonyms for mountain lion.)

Over the weekend, Spatz shared with Adirondack Almanack emails received from the scientists.

cougar 2“The gait of the cat running away is wrong for a puma.  While its impossible to be certain with these kinds of videos, the consensus here is house cat,” Rabinowitz wrote.

“Very quick cadence to the gait when it breaks into a trot, very typical of a small cat to me,” Hunter said.

In his email, Quigley noted that it’s hard to judge the animal’s size, but he agreed with his colleagues. “Thousands of people have mistaken house cats for cougars because they couldn’t determine size,” he said. “Gait doesn’t seem right either, when it starts trotting.”

Spatz said a few other experts he knows concurred with the Panthera scientists.

John Laundre, a wildlife biologist on the staff of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, had earlier reviewed the video and expressed the same uncertainty, though he said the animal resembled a cougar in some respects.

An article posted on the Almanack last Wednesday generated dozens of comments from readers, with people differing over whether the animal is a house cat or a cougar.

Cara Cowan, who lives in Crown Point near Lake Champlain, had posted the video – made with a trail camera in her backyard – on Facebook last Monday. She told the Almanack that she was convinced the animal is a cougar.

Given the distance from the camera to the area where the animal appears, Cowan said, “there is no way it could be a house cat. A house cat would have been a lot smaller in the video if that was the case.”

DEC says mountain lions vanished from the Adirondacks and the rest of the state in the nineteenth century, victims of overhunting and loss of habitat. Nevertheless, sightings of the big cats are often reported. DEC says most are cases of mistaken identity. If an actual mountain lion is seen, it is likely a pet that escaped or was released, according to DEC. One exception is a cougar that migrated from South Dakota and passed through the Adirondacks. It was killed by a car in Connecticut in 2011.

Canada lynx also once lived in the Adirondacks but are now gone. The only wild feline left in the region is the bobcat. Both lynx and bobcats have short tails. The animal in the video has a long tail, like a cougar (or a house cat).

The video can be found here. It is grainy because it actually is a video of a video. Cara Cowan’s husband uploaded the trail-camera video into his laptop and then took a video with a cell phone as the video played on the computer.

Drawing of cougars from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

22 Responses

  1. Randy says:

    Oh well. Too good to be true. At least I won’t have to freak out about Cougar attacks when hiking solo this year…..just freak out about Black Bear attacks….which have not happened in my 40+ years of rambling in the woods.

  2. Paul says:

    I guess Pete Nelson is the Prime Minister of Sweden!

    The best comment from that last story was the one about you couldn’t tell if it was a sardine or a blue whale. That was spot on.

    I think here w/o other facts like info on size and tracks etc. writing the story is premature and probably not helpful.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      I looked at the haunches, hips and length of the back legs and swore it couldn’t be a regular house cat. Shows definitively that I’m not a wildlife biologist!

      So, I heretofore and forthwith announce that I have just been promoted to Prime Minister of Sweden. It’s quite an honor, really.

      God kväll!!

      • Paul says:

        I hope you had better skiing over there than we had here this year! Enjoy the midnight sun.

  3. Boreas says:

    Small cougar…..?

    Oh well.

  4. Dave says:

    I wonder what it is about cougars that makes us so quick to see evidence that isn’t really there. Even when it is a grainy “video of a video” that makes those old bigfoot and nessy clips look like they were filmed in high definition!

    Reminds me of that old med school saying that is meant to instruct students to seek the simple explanation first, “If you hear hoofbeats in Central Park, chances are it’s a horse, not a zebra.” Maybe the Adirondack version should read, “If you see a cat in the park, chances are it’s a kitty cat, not a cougar”

    • Paul says:

      Like I said we see more cougars in places like the Adirondacks where we don’t have cougars than in a place like Colorado or California where they do have them. That is telling you something.

    • Boreas says:

      Even with a real cougar walking in and out of shadows, it would be virtually impossible to judge its size without the human standing beside it. That is the main thing about photographic evidence that make it a poor substitute for eyes. It really needs a reference.

      • Paul says:

        Here they know where the supposed cougar had been. They are big animals they leave lots of evidence. Look at the tracks follow them collect some scat. Don’t just post a grainy video of a grainy video and ask people to judge from that,

  5. Phil Brown says:

    I added photos provided by DEC showing a cardboard cougar in the same spot as the animal in the video.

  6. Cranberry Bill says:

    I wonder, if one were to photograph a suspected cougar deep in the woods, what would be the best way to document the photograph while on site.

    • Phil Brown says:

      You should ask the cougar to hold still for a selfie.

      Seriously, anything that would enable a viewer to gauge the size.

    • Boreas says:

      Stick your head in its mouth & snap a picture.

    • Paul says:

      Go over and look at the tracks. Find some good ones and then take a picture of it with something like a quarter for size. Then follow the tracks collect some scat and have it tested to show what type of animal it is.

  7. Ed Burke says:

    I heard a DEC employee and cat researcher say in a presentation that in Oregon, where there are an estimated four thousand mountain lions, ninety percent of the sightings are false. Often times it is a house cat that is mistaken and, like this sighting, cutouts are often used to verify the size discrepancy. Maybe next time . . .

    • Bruce says:


      I don’t remember what program it was, whether it was “Monster Quest” or not, but the presenters put up life size cutouts at different distances and then had viewers take brief looks and identify what they saw. People who are not accustomed to estimating distance and size get it wrong oftener than not.

  8. Maureen diaz says:

    My husband and I came across a mountain lion on Valentine Pond Road in Adirondack NY about a month ago at 2:30am. It ran across the road, clearly not a house cat.

  9. adkDreamer says:

    I am wondering just how much $$$ resources and man hours were consumed by DEC to perform this rabbit-hole investigation. Is this knee-jerk reaction to an online video posting a sign of things to come? I suppose I could simply edit a ‘deer in the headlights’ video and insert a unicorn horn on the deer’s head and see how that goes. Seriously folks, do we New Yorkers really need an ‘X-Files’ division in the DEC? I wasn’t all that fond of the ‘X-Files’ TV show when it aired and I take issue with funding it’s morphed-mashed up twin. Just my thoughts…

  10. Tim-Brunswick says:

    It looked like a house cat, walked like a house cat and by golly it was a house cat……….next?

  11. Steve Hall says:

    Desire again appears to be a powerful molder of experience. Einstein used to talk about “frame of reference”, and would add that we make up most of what we think we have experienced. When we first moved to the Adirondacks, we’d capture coy wolves on our trail cam, whose sizes diminished when we later dropped a 5 foot long stick and added a notch to a white pine to the frame’s background. Turned out they were indeed larger than western coyotes, but considerably smaller than gray wolves.

    I was in the Everglades and Great Cypress for a couple of weeks in January, with the principle goal of seeing my first wild panther, after numerous unsuccessful attempts over the years from places like Big Bend to Montana to Banff and Jasper. Right after I departed, two friends from the area photographed panthers in Great Cypress while hiking, keeping my losing streak intact.

    Pete, can we stop by Sager House, next time we’re in Stockholm?

    • Bruce says:


      Einstein got it right. Our minds tend to fill in the blanks when we don’t have all the information. Your idea of putting up size references at specified distances where they can be seen by the camera is a great one.

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