Stephen Teshoney was certain the large creature he saw from his deck last month was no bobcat.
The Sinclair Road resident was relaxing one morning when he was startled by a piercing cry that echoed across his property. The sound reminded him of a cat — a very large cat.
“I jumped out of my chair,” he recalled Friday. “Then I saw a long tail and rear end of an animal through the bushes.”
Several days later, Teshoney was looking out across his neighbor’s field when he caught sight of the same tawny-colored creature walking a couple hundred feet away. This time, it had the remains of what appeared to be a fawn hanging from it mouth.
The creature disappeared into a wooded area, and Teshoney initially decided to try to follow. He thought better of the idea and retreated after considering the prospect of encountering a cat that could weigh in excess of 120 pounds.
“I did a 180,” he said. “This was a mountain lion.”
He’s not the only Edinburg resident to have seen it. A husband and wife spotted what they described as a mountain lion and several cubs in the same general vicinity.
Another resident living about a mile away from Teshoney on Partridge Road let her agitated dog out during the predawn hours last month, only to find it dead a short distance from her home the next morning. The dog was apparently mauled and was surrounded by what the resident believed to be mountain lion prints.
“Yes, there have been reports,” acknowledged Edinburg town Supervisor Jean Raymond.
There’s one problem, though: New York’s population of wild mountain lions was hunted into extinction by 1894 — the last year there was a confirmed kill. Scores of mountain lion reports have rolled into the state Department of Environmental Conservation over the past few decades, but none have resulted in evidence that the creature has re-established a foothold in the foothills of the Adirondacks or elsewhere in the state.
“There have been hundreds [of reports],” said Dave Winchell, a regional spokesman for DEC, “but the vast majority of them have been determined to be mistaken identity.”
In the case of the mauled dog, DEC biologists analyzed the tracks and determined they were left by a bobcat — a much smaller species in the Felidae family. In contrast to mountain lions, which can weigh more than 200 pounds, bobcats generally weigh less than 40 pounds.
Winchell said pictures and molds taken from the prints in Edinburg clearly indicate the animal was a cat. But the print is only about three inches long, two or three inches smaller than the type of track a mature mountain lion would leave.
“Due to the size of the tracks, it was most likely a bobcat,” he said. “It was too small to be a mountain lion.”
Winchell couldn’t discount the notion that the tracks could belong to a cub, but he said it’s highly unlikely such a young cat would stray from its mother or could hunt on its own.
There have been cases of captive mountain lions being released or killed in the area around the Great Sacandaga Lake. In 1993, a cub was shot in the town of Providence, near Lake Desolation, but 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 declawed and had no hunting skills, however, so state officials assumed they likely died soon after release.
The last credible sighting of a wild mountain lion in New York came in 2001 from a retired DEC worker living in Lake George. The man photographed the tracks and recovered hairs left in the snow by the animal, which was first spotted by his wife.
Those samples were analyzed and proved to be from a young male that traveled from North Dakota through Ontario and into New York before being struck by a car in Connecticut in June 2011. At the time, DEC officials offered the dead cat as proof the creatures could be detected and as evidence of there being no wild population in the Northeast.
This sentiment isn’t shared by some who frequently traverse the Adirondacks. Dave Gibson, a partner in the nonprofit advocacy group Adirondack Wild, said there are enough credible witnesses who have spotted mountain lions to suggest they now maintain some presence in the sprawling park.
“I do believe they live in the park and they do travel through the park,” he said. “The anecdotal evidence suggests they’re doing both.”
Count Teshoney among the ones who agrees. Since spotting the large creature, he’s listened to mountain lion cries a friend found online and is certain they are the same as the shrill sound he heard from his deck last month.
“I know it wasn’t a bobcat because it looked nothing like a bobcat — it was much larger,” he said. “I’d swear it on a stack of Bibles.”
Raymond was also hesitant to simply accept the DEC’s ruling. She said the agency has been wrong about the stock of wildlife in the Adirondacks before.
“They told us for a long time there were no moose in the Adirondacks, until people started hitting them with their cars,” she said.