Posts Tagged ‘Eastern cougar’

west virginia cougar

This image suddenly started floating around my Facebook Feed. The image is of a “mountain lion” (oh I loathe that name for them!) that was spotted roaming in Wayne County, West Virginia.

I tried to do a reverse Google images search for it, but it didn’t show anything.  Sightings of cougars and black leopards are a dime a dozen in the Eastern US, and dodgy photos of them are valued at even less.

I’m skeptical.

This cougar is out in the middle of the day and appears to be unconcerned with the truck. That’s really atypical behavior for these animals, and any that wandered in from the West are going to have a healthy fear of people.

I don’t recognize those pines or evergreens as being any kind of native pine. The closest I can get to them are Virginia pines, and they really don’t fit the bill at all.

Now, cougars have been confirmed in Tennessee and Kentucky, and Wayne County borders on Kentucky, though not anywhere near where these animals have been sighted.

I would love for this image to be a genuine Wayne County cougar, but I’m not at all convinced.


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From the local daily.

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WV Mountain Lion

I saw this hoax in my local paper.

Some people believed it. The newspaper was skeptical. And rightly so.

The hoax says that this cougar was killed in West Virginia– somewhere between Grantsville (my area) and Walker (a small town near Parkersburg).

If there are cougars in this area, they are going to be very smart and cautious animals. People have guns and will kill them. It doesn’t matter whether the species has any state or federal protection here. If someone sees it, it will be shot.

So why would one of these alleged Eastern cougars wander out onto the highway and get hit by a car?

Secondly, the hoax said that some officials from “Fish and Game” came out and put the poor cat out its misery. We have no such department in West Virginia; it is the DNR that handles all of these things. In fact, if it had just been a deer or other mundane roadkill, the Department of Highways would be called.

Thirdly, Walker and Grantsville are some distance apart. I think that if I really wanted to do a hoax, I would say it was killed between Grantsville and Elizabeth, Grantsville and Glenville, or Grantsville and Smithville. To me those would be more logical places to say that a great cat cross the road. But I digress. Some hoaxers don’t do their homework.

The truth about the hoax can be found here. It turns out that the cougar died on the highway. It was on Highway 64– no, not I-64, which runs through West Virginia. It was hit by a car in Arizona. The cat was mortally wounded, so someone from Arizona’s Fish and Game Department came out and dispatched the poor creature.

The cat was a big tom. It was estimated to be 7 feet long and over 200 pounds.

Now, someone snapped some photos of the cat. Then the photos were sent along in e-mails. Someone with a sense of humor sent one of the photos along claiming that the cat was killed near Prescott, where lots of people live. As the photos got forwarded, someone decided to sent the photos along with the story that they had been killed in Arkansas.  Then someone forwarded them with the crazy story about the cat being killed in rural West Virginia.

If the cats are still in West Virginia, they are going to be very wary creatures. Further, a large number of sightings are going to be misidentifications. Bobcats, both species of fox, domestic cats (like Abyssinians) and certain breed of dog look a bit like cougars. In fact, it is thought that a lot of cougar sightings are actually dark-colored golden retrievers, which, I have to say, do look like the cats if you just see their long-tailed bodies running away at a distance.

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In ascending order:

3.  The Javan Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) This tiger subspecies lived on the Indonesian island  of Java. The last recorded specimen was spotted in 1972. However, the distinct pug marks of three Javan tigers were identified in 1979. Officially, this subspecies has been considered extinct since the 1980’s.

But unofficially, sightings continue. In November of 2008, the body of a female hiker was found in Mount Merbabu National Park. Supposely, she had been killed by a tiger. In January 2009, a tigress with two cubs was spotted near a village in East Java.

Now, this evidence points to the very real possibility that the Javan tiger is not yet extinct. The conformation of this subspecies species would be a real boon to tiger conservation around the world.


2. The Eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar)– The mountain lion/cougar/puma/catamount species once ranged through much of the Americas, including parts of eastern Canada and the East Coast of the US. Today, the cat has been officially extirpated from that range.  It can be found in the Western US, but the only state in the East where it can still be found is Florida, where the unique Florida subspecies is called the “Florida panther.”

Today, cougars have been sighted throughout the eastern part of North America. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have had their fair share of sitings, as has have the Appalachian Mountain states, especially West Virginia, where the Eastern Cougar Foundation is located. This species has been known to live rather close to man. A population of these cats can be found around the outskirts of Los Angeles, and many people don’t even realize that these cats live there. It is very possible for a population of these big cats to remain hidden for a rather long time. Sightings continue to be on the increase.


1. Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis)– Now, you would know that someone with a bit of an ornithological bent would choose a bird to be his number 1. And this is quite a bird. At one point, it was probably the most numerous shorebird in the Americas. Today, it is either extinct or critically endangered.

These birds made epic migrations every year from the pampas of Argentina to the Alaskan and Western Canadian Arctic, which were its breeding grounds. These birds traveled in mass flocks that would descend upon the marshes and farm fields. Settlers called them “prairie pigeons,” because they reminded their massive flocks reminded them of the vast flocks “wild pigeons” (passenger pigeons) that lived in the East. However, their presence wasn’t welcome. Not realizing that these shorebirds didn’t eat grain, the farmers shot them as pests. They didn’t realize how many harmful insects the curlews were eating each year.

It is estimated that around 2 million Eskimo curlews were killed per year in the final decades of the nineteenth century. Such a heavy killing meant that it didn’t take long for the species to dwindle to next to nothing.

The official status on the Eskimo curlew is that it is not extinct. However, it is very rare. It was last confirmed on Galveston Island, Texas, in 1962 and in Barbados in 1963. A flock was spotted in Texas in 1981, and individual birds have been spotted in Texas, Argentina, and Canada. The latest sighting was in 2006 in Nova Scotia.

So it is very likely that a very small number of Eskimo curlews still exist.

That is quite sad when one considers how many millions of these birds there once were. It has been speculated that the massive flocks of curlews and American golden plovers were the bird species that told Columbus that he was nearing land after 65 days at sea. Thus, this bird species had a role in bringing together the Old World and the New.

Today, this species is waiting for a Columbus to find it once again.

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The animal is reported to be a mountain lion/cougar/puma (all the same animal) living in Roane County, WV. The photo was taken in an area of the county in which several people claim to have seen the “fell beast.”

However, the photo is so grainy that we really can’t tell much. All we have is an image of animal slinking through the undergrowth. We have no scale on which to judge this specimen’s size.

I don’t think this particular animal is Puma concolor.

It is probably one of two common species that aren’t often seen, even by experienced woodsmen.

It is hard to discern the shape of the head, but I think it looks a bit doglike.

However, the length of the tail is also quite hard to discern.

I am thinking that this is a longer-tailed animal with a dog-like face.  In which case, the animal we’re looking at is the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). Gray foxes are interesting animals in that they do have a cat-like body and move with the sleek motion of a small cat. In fact, some Latin American countries call these animals “mountain cats” or “deer cats.” They often shed out a lot of their coat in the summer months, exposing a kind of tawny or grayish undercoat.

Like this one:


Or this one:


And if you saw this one going through the undergrowth, in an instant you’d shout “mountain lion!”


These are all gray foxes. In the summer months, some individuals shed almost their entire coats. In this phase, they are called “Samson foxes”– because they lose a lot of their hair.

Gray foxes also have lots of black on the top of their tails. They have an ability to raise the  black hair on their tails whenever they feel threatened, just the same way that dogs raise their hackles.

Now, it could also be a “cross fox,” which is a color phase of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes fulva). Cross foxes do occur in the wild in West Virginia, but they are quite rare. This form is an intermediate between the normal red fox and the melanistic and silver forms. However, this particular animal has now white on the tip of its tail, which is the main identifying mark for the red fox.

However, if this specimen’s tail is short, then we do have a feline that could easily fit the bill.

The smallest species of lynx lives in these woods. The bobcat or red lynx (Lynx rufus). In this part of the world, it is not unsual to see a grayish bobcats with very faint spots.


Now, why do I not jump onto the puma/cougar/mountain lion bandwagon?

I do think it’s possible for a small remnant population of cougar to still live in West Virginia. West Virginia is rugged terrain, and it has large areas without large-scale settlement. My guess is that if one is going to be found in West Virginia, though, there are far more remote areas than this place, which isn’t that far from both Parkersburg and Charleston. My guess is that one would turn up in the Monogahela National Forest or some other area in the High Alleghenies, not in the foothill.

My own amateur zoologist’s opinion is that this animal is a Samson gray fox.

Just so you can get an idea of how gray foxes move, I am posting this video of a Jack Russell, which were bred to bolt foxes(!) and an imprinted gray fox:


You can see how a gray fox can be mistaken for a cat, and there is a reason why they move so much like cats.

You see, gray foxes retain an interesting behavior that was once common among primitive wild dogs. Gray foxes are not bound to a terrestrial existence. They can still climb trees. They share this trait with the raccoon dog and their close cousin, the island fox of the Channel Islands.


So what do you think?

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