Still not sure if there are wild cougars in state
There are folks in Pennsylvania who continue to insist that
there are wild, reproducing mountain lions left in this state.
Dozens of “sightings” occur here each year, but to the best of my
knowledge there has not been any compelling evidence for many
decades that wild big cats exist.
So it was no surprise recently when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service proposed that the eastern cougar be declared extinct.
There have been hundreds of claims in the last 20 years that
mountain lions have been seen or left evidence behind. Some of the
cases have been hard to explain, but in the end there was no proof
that a wild cougar was there. Some of the claims come from very
credible people and a few include decent-quality photos and videos
seem to show mountain lions. In a few cases, authorities concluded
a pet or captive cougar escaped.
I have heard of partially eaten carcasses of beef calves being
discovered high up in trees and long, deep gouges that appeared to
be claw marks in the necks of horses and dairy cows, that seem to
indicate a cougar attacked. The most convincing anecdotal account
of wild cougars in the commonwealth I ever heard was from the pilot
of a small private plane.
A few weeks before I talked with him in the summer of, perhaps,
1992, he had flown into Grand Canyon Airport in the state’s
northern tier. “On approach to the runway, maybe a hundred feet off
the ground, I flew over an adult mountain lion followed closely by
two cubs,” I remember him saying. “That tells me there are a few
wild big cats around.”
A no-nonsense, ex-military guy and a life-long and well-traveled
hunter and outdoorsman, he didn’t appreciate my question about
whether they had long tails. “These weren’t bobcats,” he said. “I
know the difference. Folks have always seen at least a few mountain
lions in Pine Creek Valley every year.”
Maybe — I always wanted to believe it. But perhaps it’s time to
give up hope. I know some people never will. They continue to
insist that wild cougars exist in our state. But the question must
be asked. Why has there never been a documented case of a mountain
lion being killed by a vehicle on a Pennsylvania road?
In Florida — where a much-studied and carefully protected
population of 100 to 120 cougars has clung tenaciously to existence
near and in the Everglades — a dozen of the big cats are annually
killed on roads. Yes, wild cougars are shy and reclusive, but if
they were in Pennsylvania, at least a few over the years would have
died on our busy highways.
Still, John Lutz, director of the Eastern Puma Research Network,
based in West Virginia, sees a conspiracy behind the U.S. Fish
& Wildlife Service proposing that eastern cougars be declared
extinct. Recently, he explained that the proposal was made because
of the expense and hassle of protections that would have to be
enforced if the existence of wild mountain lions is proven.
Lutz pointed out that the eastern cougar has been listed on the
endangered species list since 1973. Its historical range includes
21 states, from Maine to Georgia, with Pennsylvania in the middle.
Lutz, who has been documenting cougar sightings since 1965, has
volumes of reports and photographs from all over the country.
Pennsylvania, he said, has its fair share of wild cougars — a
mixture of animals moving in from eastern Canada, New England and
from states to the south.
He claimed to have cougar tracks confirmed in Clinton and
Cameron counties, as well as a photograph of one taken in the
I really hope he’s right and that it’s true wild cougars still
exist in Pennsylvania. But my hope is fading fast.