One of the most pervasive features of wildlife lore concerns the big cats that seem to be roaming the world in unexpected places. In the eastern U.S., state wildlife agencies have been accused for decades of releasing cougars back into their former range, but never admitting doing so. The conspiracists charge that the cougar reintroduction could be a surreptitious attempt to skirt the negative publicity associated with releases of large carnivores, or that it’s part of a coordinated effort to reduce state deer herds to cut down on insurance claims from deer/automobile collisions. Whatever the motivation, however, the common theme is that people report encounters with cougars all the time, state wildlife officials investigate, and only very rarely is there actually any evidence that the created observed was, in fact, a cougar. In contrast, hoaxes (e.g., photos taken from the western U.S. – where cougars are common – and passed off as from an eastern state) have been revealed many times, as have the obvious cases of mistaken identity from photos of bobcats or domestic tabbies.
There’s a great article in last week’s Wall Street Journal on this topic, written by Justin Sheck. Check it out.
This photo of a cougar from Franklin, Wisconsin was determined to have been a Photoshopped hoax.