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Pennsylvania Mountain Lions

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on October 24th, 2006

In search of the elusive Pennsylvania mountain lions
Christian Berg Outdoors
The Morning Call, Allentown, PA

When it comes to creepy creatures, Pennsylvania doesn’t hold a candle to other parts of the country. The Pacific Northwest has Bigfoot, New Mexico has space aliens and Puerto Rico is home to the fearsome chupacabra, a grotesque monster that supposedly sucks the blood out of livestock.

What Pennsylvania does have, however, is a seemingly endless fascination with mountain lions. Call it the Nittany Lion effect, but it’s clear there are thousands of residents who truly believe there are cougars among us.

Of course, unlike Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and other legends relegated to cryptozoology, mountain lions are very real animals that can be found in many areas of North America. There’s just no good reason to believe they really exist in Penn’s Woods.

Pennsylvania’s last known pair of wild mountain lions was killed near Lock Haven, Clinton County, in 1871. A mountain lion was killed by a hunter in Potter County in 1967, but the commission said that animal was an escaped pet.

Still, the overwhelming absence of proof has done little to discourage residents from submitting dozens of mountain lion sightings to the Pennsylvania Game Commission each year. Cal DuBrock, director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, said the number of reports seems to have hit an all-time high in recent months.

"I can’t recall a time when we’ve had more," DuBrock said. "Yet we don’t have a carcass in hand or any tangible evidence."

DuBrock said the commission has always investigated mountain lion sightings. But up until now, the agency didn’t have an official protocol for responding to them, keeping track of how many reports were received or where they came from.

Starting this month, commission officials who respond to mountain lion reports will collect a standard set of information, including eyewitness accounts, photographs, videos and any physical evidence such as hair, tracks and scat.

"We’ll be able to quantify the reports, and, in a sense, qualify them," DuBrock said.

Just because the commission has developed a standard method for tracking lion sightings doesn’t mean officials believe the animals are here. In fact, DuBrock said the new procedures were created largely out of frustration about how much time agency employees have wasted following up reports that lead nowhere.

In the past, the commission has received photographs, videotapes, tracks and scat from a variety of animals — including bobcats, housecats, foxes, fishers, coyotes and bears — that people thought were mountain lions.

Despite that, commission officials don’t completely rule out the possibility that a mountain lion or two may be roaming around out there. But if they are, officials can’t understand why a cougar hasn’t been shot or killed on a highway.

In Florida, for example, where a remnant population of about 100 endangered panthers remains, as many as 10 of the big cats are struck by vehicles each year. And here in Pennsylvania, DuBrock said, between 100 and 200 bobcats are road-killed each year, along with more than 300 bears.

"People must be scarfing up the mountain lions when they’re hit," DuBrock joked.

All kidding aside, DuBrock said he believes the commission’s new methods will go a long way to either debunking the mountain lion myth or collecting the kind of hard evidence that has been so elusive for so long.

"We’re not looking for more accounts. We’re looking for more credible accounts," DuBrock said. "There are some who are attempting to perpetuate a hoax, but there are many people of high integrity who are seeing something."

Determining exactly what, however, often proves impossible.

"Sometimes," DuBrock said, "you just feel like you’re chasing the wind."

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.


21 Responses to “Pennsylvania Mountain Lions”

  1. maceman444 responds:

    I lived in Pennsylvania for the first 20 years of my life. There are a lot of places in northern PA that have low populations and a small group of mountain lions could thrive. There are plenty of rabbits, possums, groundhogs, and other small game that would be easy targets for a new predator. However Allentown, PA where this report comes from isn’t huge but it is big enough that if there were any mountain lions there, a body would most likely be found. There is a lot of gun-crazed rednecks out there and PA is the Semi-Truck capitol of the world.

  2. One Eyed Cat responds:

    Confusing Mountain lions with — of all things — Bears?

    Looks like some people need to at least watch a nature show!

  3. Bob Michaels responds:

    Plenty of deer in Pennsylvania to provide the protein for some of the elusive cougars to survive. Just hope that’s it’s the bonfide eastern cougar when it’s actually confirmed.

  4. joppa responds:

    I don’t doubt that catamounts are roaming the mountains all along Appalachian chain, from the Catskills to the Alleghanies to the Smokies. Using roadkills to verify a creatures existence? How many cougars are run over in the Rockies? Not very many, and Colorado is crawling with the big cats. Mr. DuBrock’s debunking is disingenuous.

  5. dtart responds:

    I find it very interesting that Lock Haven and Potter county are mentioned in the article. Although these referenced areas are seperated by nearly 100 years in mountain lion accounts they are actually in very close proximity to one another. Unlike Allentown, which is in central eastern PA, the north central portion of PA is vast, extremely wild and heavily wooded. There is no doubt that it could support a population of these animals. Without proper testing, scat, hair samples etc. can be misidentified fairly easily but credible sightings from numerous witnesses who are familiar with all of the local fauna should be taken very seriously. I agree with joppa, it seems like mountain lion sightings are more of an inconvenience than a legitimate scientific pursuit for the PA Game commission.

  6. skunkape_hunter responds:

    I have to agree with Joppa, the idea that because Panthers get hit here in Florida, somehow means that they would get hit anyplace they live is sort of silly. I actually had my first Panther sighting about two weeks ago, running across the road in front of me. The Florida wildlife website lists the reported Panther & car collisions. The one thing that becomes apparent is that many of these fatal encounters happen in populated areas. I would assume this has to do with food, heavy human population, many people traveling, and so on and so forth.

    It is also a myth that the Panthers natural habitat is the Glades. That is not the case at all. They have been forced into the Glades and the swamps. This would indicate another reason they get hit. They try to go and stay where the ground is dry. During the ’04 hurricanes, when the swamps and lakes overflowed there were all sorts of animals being killed on the roads. Hogs, deer, gators, coyotes, etc. They were trying to move to drier ground. My other half actually hit a hog during that time period.

    So as I said, I do not go along with the road kill theory at all. There is a reason that Panthers are crossing the roads down here.

  7. shovethenos responds:

    I recall a certain game-camera picture from neighboring West Virginia that recently appeared on this site. It portrayed a dusky-colored animal that seemed – from what I could tell at least – to have a long tail that reached the ground.

  8. crgintx responds:

    I know that developmental pressure has now pushed black bears back into the thick piney woods of East Texas but I’ve never heard of one being killed on a public road. Cougars have been spotted within both Bexar and Travis Counties which are heavily human populated areas. I’ve personally witnessed a cougar sighting on Medina Base Annex in the early ’85. This is virtually within the San Antonio city limits. Cal Dubrock is protecting certain economic interests to keep those areas from becoming protected as cougar habitat areas.

  9. raisinsofwrath responds:

    I grew up hunting in McKean County and am an eyewitness.

    November 1976, my father and I were driving up a slope on a logging road when suddenly right in front of us a large animal jumped from the embankment on our right onto the road in front of us. And I do mean right in front of our vehicle. There was no mistaking what it was, a very large black cat. Although I had heard stories about black panthers, I never really thought about it until that day.

    It was a beautiful animal and as it took off running up the middle of this old dirt road we gave chase. As we were driving with a very steep drop to our left we had to remain cautious, however we did move as fast as we dared for conditions. The panther easily stayed 10 yards ahead of us and then suddenly turned sharply left and disappeared down over the edge into the slashing.

    With my fathers 45 years of scouring the NW PA woods along with my 8 or so, we both were positive of what we had witnessed. Once back at hunting camp we told the other hunters of our experience. Although I can’t remember their reaction I do remember that my father never mentioned it again. In fact this is only the second time I have talked about it since and I am 43 now.

    These majestic cats may not roam PA now but I can tell you that they did in 1976.

  10. greywolf responds:

    Well if we don’t have Mountain Lions in Pa. they are surely very big house cats. And the person who called us gun toting red necks does not know much about the people of Pa. Legal gun owners yes, red neck I don’t think so.

  11. kittenz responds:

    crgintx Says:
    “I know that developmental pressure has now pushed black bears back into the thick piney woods of East Texas but I’ve never heard of one being killed on a public road.”

    I don’t know about Texas, but here in Pike County, KY, and across the river in Mingo and Logan couunties, WV, there have been about a half dozen black bears killed on the highways over the past few years.

  12. Tim Cassidy responds:

    I saw cougar tracks in Pennsylvania in 2003. I found them in Westmoreland County in six inches of snow. We tracked it a bit and I verified they were feline and not canine. As a professional naturalist, and a experienced park ranger from out west, I am very confident they were cougar tracks and a full grown adult at that.

    Is it possible they were from a feral escapee? Yes, but whose to say? Cougars have been spotted in almost every state and province east of the Mississippi. In my opinion they do roam PA and KY, IN, OH, MO and MI. They have been spotted in Ontario and are living in Quebec, so New England is just as likely to have them as does the Appalachia and Smoky Mountain ranges. The main question in my mind – are they descended from Western cougars or reminant stock of Eastern panthers?

  13. oroblanco responds:

    Greetings,
    I must take issue with many points of this article, having lived in PA for many years (though I now reside in AZ) there seems to be quite a misconception of what PA is really like.

    First, over half of the state is covered in forest lands. Some of these areas were still “fly in hunting” hotspots like we see in Maine or Canada until relatively recent years. There exists ample habitat for a large predator species, as well as game animals that they must subsist upon. People who have never seen PA have the idea that it is all a giant, highly developed “suburbia-land” when in truth it has vast areas of highly UN-developed lands, which are home to good populations of wild animals. (Why else would there be over one million deer hunters there every year?)

    Second, the idea that PA has no legends of mystery animals is utterly false. Long before I had ever heard of “Bigfoot” or knew what the term meant, local people knew of (and talked about quietly) what we would today describe as “bigfoot” in NE PA, and south of there was an even stranger type of man-creature called “applesnitches” or “appletwitches” – a type of bigfoot that stood four feet tall and habitually raided old apple orchards. There are reports of encounters with huge bigfoot and the appletwitches in old newspapers, one of which is online (from Susquehanna county) somewhere. Reports of sightings of ‘thunderbirds’ in PA are quite numerous as well. From the colonial period and early northwest, there were tales of encounters with huge maned lions, the last pair being killed in a cave in SE PA in the early 1800s. In my childhood, when I first started trapping there was also what were locally believed to be a subspecies of beaver that we trapped, called “bank beaver” which were NOT muskrats nor young ordinary beavers, but a smaller species that was less than half the size of adult beavers and which never built dams. The teeth of these smaller beaver showed them to be NOT just immature ordinary beavers but mature animals. There were also “brush wolves” seen by many hunters, which some have proposed are coyotes but having seen (one) and examined the skins personally I cannot agree that these canids were coyotes but gray wolves. I also personally witnessed three unknown creatures in a field one night, which to this day I have no idea what they were. In fact there are so many different legends that I cannot hope to list them all here.

    Then we come to the “legends” of mountain lions persisting in PA. I have not ever seen one there personally, but have seen tracks (they are not difficult to discern in snow) that could not have been bobcats (far too large) but were large felines. I don’t know if anyone remembers it but there was a ‘flap’ of sightings of what was called the “Nicholson Tiger” in and around the small town of Nicholson near where I formerly lived. This cat was even caught by the local (Scranton) television crews on camera, when their station helicopter spotted it crossing a field behind West Nicholson. Of course the talk on TV news (local) was that the animal was someone’s escaped pet ‘tiger’ (even though no one said it was striped) however I met and talked with one of the first persons to report sighting the animal, and he told me that what he saw was a big, tawny cat quietly stride across US route 92 in the early morning. He was so shocked that he reported it, and of course the news personnel picked up the word “tawny” which they equated to “tawny = tiger” and it became a Tiger, when it was never a tiger but a large mountain lion. Outside of the “official” records, I know of a mountain lion killed in Noxen at the local tannery in the early 1960s, one struck by a train a few years ago in western PA, one photographed on a porch of a house in Bradford county (a young one, not full grown) and of an incident where a mountain lion leaped onto a car, leaving scratch marks that were un-deniable. I personally hunted every year from the age of 12 on, and am convinced those mountains and ridges of NE and North Central PA have a small population of Felix Concolor that never was eliminated. Black cougars seem to be fairly common among the reports too.

    I now wish that I had collected all of the articles and reports that I have heard and seen over the years, including several incidents of mountain lions attacking livestock (even a horse killed in NE PA once, a vet examined the horse and stated it had been killed by a mountain lion) which could now be presented. The fact that over a million hunters go into the field there every deer hunting season does NOT “prove” that unknown animals cannot exist there, in fact it is from hunters that many of the reports come!

    If mountain lions were extirpated from PA as the official line goes, we should not have had reports of sightings and encounters that continue from the date of the last “official” kills to today. I don’t think it is possible to discern whether the eastern puma is different from the western puma, however we know that a small population of Florida pumas survived to now, and PA has a large region (again NE and NC) which could readily have served as a refuge for a remnant population. If they were exterminated, it is also possible that wild cougars from Canada or New England could have spread into PA; as we see the moose population spreading southwards today. Of course the skeptics say that any cougar found in PA or anywhere in the east (they are also spotted in New Jersey) MUST be an escaped “pet” – so we cannot prove these are a surviving population. However common sense will tell you that not only is it possible the cougars reported today are a surviving population, it is logical.

  14. shumway10973 responds:

    joppa has a point. I live in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of Northern California. Right now we are being run over by mountain lions. There are so many that some are even moving down into the larger cities, some have even been seen in downtown Los Angeles. With that said, I have never seen a mountain lion on the side of the road. In fact, in the 33 years I have been around, I have only seen 3 mountain lions, and 2 were together near my family’s ranch. The other one was walking through my back yard when I was around 10. So, to say that if they aren’t turning up roadkill they don’t exist, that’s stupid. Just because the Florida cougars/pumas are too stupid to stay out of the road, doesn’t mean any others are too. Just remember folks, don’t wear red (the “officials” just figured out that the cougars can see red and thinks it’s blood). Here is the true sign of a cougar, if you come upon a newly killed deer, still warm, and the predator hasn’t had much time to munch away, but the heart is missing–that’s a cougar right there. They love the heart(s) of their prey and will usually eat that first. I too hope that if/when any are found that they will be the original species that once roamed there.

  15. s1234w responds:

    Pennsylvania has a long history of mountain lions. In 1996, I seen one along a state game road. This lion could not be mistaken for a bobcat, the length of its tail was as long as its body. A lot bigger than my 85 pound dog at home. At that time I did not think they were around here but after I seen it my investigation started and found from good resources that they do roam here. My encounter happened in Lycoming Co. and at an area I know very well that if you want to hunt with out seeing anyone, you can do that all day. Their are books about early pioneers that would go out and track lion as long as a month at a time from the mid 1700’s to around 1900 when they started to protect them.

  16. shadowparks responds:

    believe it or not, we have actually had sightings here in good old Delaware. I think where there are deer, you will find cougars

  17. Mnynames responds:

    As I’ve related in other threads here, plenty of them in NJ too, and more than enough Deer for them to feast off of as well.

    As for PA, let’s not forget the multiple Mountain Lion sightings in Philadelphia in January of 1995.

  18. epuma responds:

    Within last week, Pennsylvania hunters have sent us data on mountain lions in Tioga, Sullivan, Cameron, Clinton & Bedford Counties. 1 event from retired zoologist who saw a puma at less than 60 feet, watched as it jumped in leap from center yellow line of Rt 872 to top of embankment 25 feet away. Only a cougar is capable of that feat.

    An adult black panther was seen in southern Bedford Co on Devilbliss Rd, Nov. 21st at 0715 hours by an Army captain just back from Iraqi. He shot a cougar in Colorado in 1999 & knows what they and black cougars look like.

    Southern Bedford Co. has verified reports of large BLACK panthers/pumas since 1920s based on multiple families in Allegheny Co, Md & southern Bedford Co who owned 1,000s of acres on Wills & Martin Mountains. In late 1980s, a BLACK panther paid visits to Chaneysville Cove School grounds, witnessed by law enforcement, 6 teachers & 30 students, who have never forgotten those events. YES, there are wild native cougars, mountain lions in several regions of the Keystone State.

    Documentation exists of native cougars in Pennsylvania, which PGC refuses to acknowledge.

  19. starkken responds:

    I saw definite Mountain Lion tracks while visiting Susquehanna County in 2004. Not only a full grown lion prints, that were about the size of my Palm (excluding my fingers), but prints about half that size right along side of the larger prints. Breeding population? I doubt a bobcat would be walking side by side with an adult lion. There was no mistaking what I saw were lion prints. I have been a wildlife nut all my life and I know what I saw. If there are any researchers interested, I would be happy to share some other interesting details that would surprise you.

  20. sstein44 responds:

    On Saturday morning at about 5:30am my husband called me out back because he thought he saw something, I crabbed my binoculars to take a look. We have a family of foxes living in the backyard, we then heard a loud cry, we heard this sound on Thursday but didn’t know what it was. We discovered it was one of the baby foxes, he ran and as he was being chased by something much larger. The fox ran to the middle of the street and just made that horrible crying sound, he was facing the fox den at the time, I figured there had to be what ever chased him still there, I could not see because of the trees, so I stepped off the deck and bent down to see the large animal that chased him sitting at the fox den. We have a 70lb dog and this animal was much larger, I looked through the binoculars and saw a mountain lion I saw him clear as day he turned & looked at me I jumped up to go get the camera and he just jumped the rock wall & took off.

    My husband also saw him, he was something to see, since then we’ve only seen the momma fox and 2 babies, I’m hoping he didn’t get the other 2 babies. My neighbor thought he saw a mountain lion last winter he took a picture of the print as well. We live in northeastern PA in Honesdale there as been a lot of building going on in last 2 years I’m sure the food source is becoming a problem for him. I will continue to look for him & needless to say I don’t go outside without my camera. Since then I stay a little closer to the house with the dog at dawn & dusk, I wouldn’t want to take any chances.

  21. timmymaines responds:

    Hello, im from PA lived here my whole life im 21 from a town near state collage..back in i belive it was 2006 maybe 2005 i have seen something…not sure what it was i live near woods i walked about 20 mins away from my house one night around 12am too meet a friend as i was walkin down a road in the dark..there where bushes too the left of me. when i seen something run across the street in to the bushes..not sure what it was i didnt get a good look at it but it seem too stand too about my waist im 5’11 so you can get a good idea… i tryed lookin in the bushes..but seen nothing i then heard a sound. sounded like a baby crying i started too look harder not knowing what to think..then that sounds came soo frighting and high pitch. i took off running toward light..and didnt stop until i got there..then i stayed in the light for probley an hour maybe longer scared and by myself..i started too walk home up over the hill avioding that area.. wondering where this friend was i was suppposed too meat my mind played tricks on me the whole way up the dark hill..as i took a path in the woods in stead of wasteing 30mins and walkin the whole way around. i got home and as soon as i open the door everyone was askin me whats wrong i was out of breath and was white as a ghost..they thought i was goin too pass out..i told them what i heard and they say we have cougars here in PA and thats what i seen that night im still unsure of that…but this is my story i live in clearfield PA in a small nieghborhood called hyde..if anyone knows where that is..



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