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.”
Spatz 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.
“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.