Internet mountain lion photo a hoax, DEC says

There’s fresh evidence for why you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the Internet.

There’s fresh evidence for why you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the Internet.

A cellphone photograph of a tawny big cat — a cougar or mountain lion — lying dead in the back of a pickup has been making the cyber-rounds, with a story that it was shot in Clinton County, at the northern edge of the Adirondacks.

The story was spreading so fast that the state Department of Environmental Conservation took the unusual step on Wednesday of issuing an official statement branding it a hoax.

“We just decided to get out in front before it really gets into something big,” said David Winchell, spokesman for DEC Region 5 in Ray Brook.

There are no native wild mountain lions in New York state, according to DEC. Not that everyone believes that.

The department issued a detailed rebuttal of the Internet story, noting lack of detail in the picture and inconsistency in the information attached to the photo.

“We believe it was actually taken during a legal hunt in a western state,” Winchell said.

The same photo has turned up in reports DEC officials looked into in western New York in December, and in mountain lion reports from Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“Our Region 9 folks out in Buffalo had to deal with it, and it just took on a life of its own,” Winchell said.

The episode adds to a venerable history of purported mountain lion sightings in the Adirondacks.

Just Friday, Winchell said, a Saranac Lake woman called and insisted there were mountain lion tracks in her yard. A wildlife biologist was dispatched but found they were dog tracks.

“A big dog, but a dog,” Winchell said. The lions were once here but were entirely hunted out by the late 1800s, according to DEC.

DEC’s position is that there are no mountain lions or cougars native to the Adirondacks, even its most remote locations. Not that that has stopped the true believers.

There have been occasional instances of what state officials believe were released pet lions.

In 1993, a mountain lion cub was shot in the town of Providence near Lake Desolation in Saratoga County. DNA tests indicated it was descended from South American animals.

In 1995, a Corinth woman released two young mountain lions into the wild after she was charged with illegally keeping an endangered species. The animals were never found, but DEC officials said they were declawed, had no hunting skills and likely died soon after release.

“We don’t believe there is a viable self-sustaining population in the Adirondacks,” Winchell said.

In places where there are mountain lions, the DEC statement said, they’re seen regularly and wildlife officials find their carcasses. The last wild carcass in New York was found in 1894.

But people will believe what they want, and if someone claims to have seen a mountain lion, the state will check it out.

“The bottom line is when we get calls we have to check them out, even when it is not necessarily a good use of staff resources,” Winchell said.

When the same picture first appeared concerning an alleged Erie County kill in December and a Buffalo television station ran a story about DEC’s denials, many people responded on the station’s Web site, saying DEC officials didn’t know what they were talking about.

If DEC simply let the hoax picture circulate uncontested, Winchell said, there’s always the possibility some people would go on to conclude the state was secretly releasing cougars as a way of controlling the deer population.

Categories: Schenectady County

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