Fact Check

Mountain Lion on Patio

Photographs show a mountain lion on the patio deck of a home.

Published Feb. 25, 2007


Claim:   Photographs show a mountain lion on the patio deck of a home.

Status:   Real photographs; inaccurate description.

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, February, 2007]

From a guy out at Martin, SD. Pictures taken from his kitchen onto his patio deck. It was watching his little kids on the kitchen floor!

From a guy around northwest Fort Dodge Iowa. Pictures taken from his kitchen onto his patio deck. He wishes to remain anonymous. It was watching his little kids on the kitchen floor!!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Origins:   These images apparently depict one wide-roaming mountain lion/puma/cougar, as e-mails have variously reported this big cat's recently being photographed in a number of different sites throughout the North America (including some areas where mountain lion sightings are rare or unusual), such as Martin (South Dakota), Fort Dodge (Iowa), Moose Lake (Wisconsin), Kansas City (Missouri), Omaha (Nebraska), New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Simsbury (Connecticut), as well as Avonmore (Ontario) in Canada.

Ron Andrews, a furbearer resource specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, noted that although these pictures are often accompanied by a legend placing the scene in Fort Dodge, confirmed mountain lion sightings in Iowa are fairly rare:

"It's been over two years since we've had a validated sighting in Iowa."

During that time, he said, there have been numerous reports of mountain lions slinking through the state, but 98 to 99 percent of the time, it's a

case of mistaken identity. Lighting conditions and distance can easily make someone believe one species of animal is another.

Topping the list of these would-be cougars are dogs, Andrews said, most often yellow Labs or light-colored German shepherds. In the southern parts of the state, many mistake native bobcats for mountain lions despite a difference in size and the bobcat's shorter tail. Even deer can be mistaken as the feline predator because of its similar coloring.

Around a half dozen tracks have been confirmed, Andrews said, and only three cougar carcasses have been found since the animals disappeared from the Iowa landscape more than a century ago. Evidence has shown the big cats will roam through the state, he added, but they are often young males pushed out of territories in the west by older, more dominant males. The animals could even be former pets.

We spoke with Dave Hamilton of the Missouri Department of Conservation's Mountain Lion Response Team, who has been tracking these pictures, and he informed us that they were actually taken back around 2001 or 2002 by Dr. Dave Rogers at his home in Lander, Wyoming (with the detail about the big cat's "watching his little kids on the kitchen floor" being a bit of fictitious sensationalism added by unknown hands).

As Mr. Hamilton noted in his article on "Cougar Hysteria," these photographs do not depict an occurrence unusual to the area where they originated:

Wyoming is a western state with a population of several thousand cougars. Dr. Rogers lives in a riparian corridor with a good cougar habitat and plenty of deer, so sightings are not surprising in the area.

Update:   In February 2008, these same photos began circulating yet again, this time with text identifying them as having been taken near Findlay in Shelby County, Illinois, prompting a denial from the
Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) of claims that the department was deliberately releasing big cats in the state:

"While it is not completely impossible for a cougar to be found in Illinois, sighting of a wild one is highly unlikely," said Acting IDNR Director Sam Flood.

"Wild cougars have been found in neighboring states but, again, very, very rarely."

Flood also addressed rumors sometimes mentioned in these hoax e-mails that the IDNR is releasing these animals into the Illinois ecosystem.

"It is absolutely not true that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is releasing cougars anywhere in the state for any reason," Flood said.

While the IDNR does investigate several alleged cougar sightings each year, most, if not all,turn out to be a case of mistaken identity. The animals most often mistaken for cougars are coyotes, bobcats, or large domestic dogs or cats.

Last updated:   3 March 2008

  Sources Sources:

    Hamilton, Dave.   "Cougar Mania."


    Pritchard, Trevor.   "E-Mail Pics Likely a Hoax: Official."

    [Cornwall] Standard Freeholder.   3 April 2007.

    Thompson, Dawn.   "Photos Stir Up 'Puma Paranoia'."

    The [Fort Dodge] Messenger.   20 February 2007.

    Morris Daily Herald.   "IDNR Debunks Internet Rumor of Cougars in Illinois."

    The [Fort Dodge] Messenger.   8 February 2008.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Article Tags