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Question of the Month

February 2011

Mountain Lion Reports
Any Truth ?


About six months ago I posted the question, Are there Mountain Lions in Pennsylvania? Over the last few months several people have responded to this question with reports of their own. One man sent me a game camera photo that was blurry but looked like a mountain lion, or puma, as I like to call them. Mary saw the photo, too, and she immediately agreed, it was a puma. The photographer had no reason to stage the shot -- indeed, the composition and background was terrible, and not what you'd expect for something staged, but the shot wasn't perfectly clear.

Two different people told me that they, or a close relative, had seen pumas on more than one occasion. One man, in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania, had seen one, at night, about 25 years ago. He said he'd never forget the sighting, but it was only when he saw another, a few months ago, in daylight, from his cabin, that he decided it was time to tell someone.

Two other reports went, in detail, on what they saw, the size, the length of tail, etc. And again, while they may have been mistaken, they certainly were completely convinced that they had seen a puma. I believe them.

The image in the Upper Left was from a Game Camera, sent to me by a friend. The other three images are from my file, selected to most closely approximate the pose of the cat from the game camera. I have three observations here: 1. I am bothered by the constricted neck of the cat on the game camera; 2. the tail is curved down, rather than up, but it may have been in mid-swing; 3. the goldenrod-appearing flower, and the background of cars, gives a sense of scale and location. Had this been faked, I'd suspect the hoaxter would try for a more authentic background.

Because the neck bothered me, I decided to do some Photoshop on the puma in the lower left, moving his head higher up and changing the image to a contrasty black and white - to give a silhouette for comparision. Here it is:

I still couldn't get the big head/little neck, and the body is a bit stouter/shorter, but a striding cat might be stretched out a bit. You be the judge.

I'll offer my own little anecdote. Recently, on a back road in Pennsylvania, a friend and I had our first sighting of a coyote in Pennsylvania. My friend was a former hunter and fisherman, and spent a lot of time in the woods, as did I, but neither of us had ever seen a coyote. This one streaked across the road in the early evening, and fortunately, it stopped when it climbed a hill on the other side where I had another view from my side of the truck. But even without that second look there was no question that we'd seen a coyote. A brief look, yes, but no question we saw a coyote.

Now, forty years ago coyotes were rare or almost nonexistent in Pennsylvania, and had had that same sighting back then, when coyotes were thought not to exist within the state we would have had the 'facts' to doubt what we saw. However, my friend and I discussed this, and agreed, we saw what we saw, and had it been 40 years ago or four months ago, we knew we saw a coyote.

I believe that the folks that are reporting, in detail, their sightings are faced with a similar situation. They know what they saw, regardless of what the facts say, and they know they saw a puma. I've read a lot about this, and the usual explanation is the very human desire to see something, to see what someone wants to see, and thus these people are seeing bobcats or brown cats or dogs or foxes and, because they 'want' to see a puma, they do. But no one that I've communicated with had these preconceptions, and seeing what they saw was a complete surprise. And a bit of an unpleasant one at that, as they now faced ridicule or doubt whenever they discussed their sightings.

Their are two web sites I know of that dealt with eastern pumas, with the one, the Eastern Puma Research Network, concentrating on sightings in the east. Unfortunately, their web site no longer seems active, and has been taken over by some wacky drug product. Goggling Eastern Puma brings up other web sites, however, with varying levels of professionalism or credibility. The other site, The Cougar Network, is still active, and is reporting the cats expanding range from the West, but offers little about the phenomenon of Pennsylvania cats.

I am hoping that more and more people will learn of my own interest in this, and will pass on this information and that I'll receive more reports and, hopefully, sometime, a game camera photo that is definitive. On that, I've had emails sent with game trail photo attachments, or killed pumas, supposedly shot in Pennsylvania, but these were hoaxes. One of these days, though, I'll get one that won't be, and I hope that will be soon.

If you're interested in this, please pass on this link, and if you see a cat, please let me know!


Questions of the Month

Are the Latest Fast CF Cards worth the Expense?
How does the 7D hold up in a recent shoot?

Which is the better camera, the Mark IV or the 7D?

Are there Mountain Lions (Pumas, Cougars) in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic States?

Why is bat photography so difficult?

What do I think of the Canon 1D Mark IV?

How do I deal with shaving weight for carrying my gear
Why do I advocate manual exposure so avidly?
Where can I find Depth of Field reference charts?

What is the Kiboko backpack? Is it the New Best Pack?
Is there a correct position for the upright on a Wimberley actionhead?

How, Who, and Why? The story behind our new web site.

Archived Questions of the Month
Most of my original Questions of the Month for the last several
years are available through this link. The 'look' is from my
original web site, although if I ever have enough time I might
redo these pages to match the new web site But that's not
a high priority.