Eastern Cougar Mysteries

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 29th, 2007

Eastern Cougar Catfights

On display at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology: The verified casts (one shown above, the other below) of credible eastern cougar tracks found in Massachusetts in 1990.

Naturalist Helen McGinnis’ of the Eastern Cougar Foundation, during January 2007, has raised some questions about the above during their “Project Hoax.”

Black Bobcat

A Mystery Melanistic Felid captured on film in Florida turned out to be a black bobcat.

Helen McGinnis, in the late 1970s, gathered evidence and privately published her findings in papers widely distributed to cryptozoologically-minded associates saying she thought upwards of 40% of the mystery cats in that state were melanistic.

But a few years ago, McGinnis joined with the skeptical Eastern Cougar Foundation (ECF), and they began to control the eastern cougar listserv.

Over the last few weekends, McGinnis has focussed her debunkings against the pro-cougar evidence at the Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

McGinnis details her “insights” on January 22nd, about cougar casts that were made in the summer of 1990 in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts:

Judy Chupasko, manager of the mammal collection in the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard University, displayed them at the 2004 Eastern Cougar Conference in Morgantown, WV. At the time I was not impressed with them, but in late April of last year, I was looking at the skulls in the MCZ collection and came upon the casts, which are catalogued and stored in the Puma collection. This time I was excited. The casts are accompanied by a lengthy transcript of a conversation with one of the two men involved in the alleged discovery and casting of the tracks.

The photos of the two casts are now in the [ECF’s] Hoax file.

In the transcript the person involved says that he’s had several encounters with cougars in western Massachusetts. He’s heard them scream, he has seen them, and he was even attacked by a mother with a kitten. The mother came leaping toward him. This person is a respected naturalist who has done faunal and botanical surveys of natural areas in New England. I talked with him on the phone, and he corroborated what is in the transcript.

However, the tracks are clearly a hoax. The heel pads are not correctly shaped and appear to have been made with some object with a semi-circular edge pressed into the ground. The toes could easily have been made by pressing fingers into the substrate.

Jim Cardoza of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game was involved in the initial examination of the casts. He believes that they are fakes.

What makes this hoax significant is that the casts are catalogued in the collection of the MCZ, one of the oldest and most respected research natural history museum in the United States. – Helen McGinnis

Eastern Cougar Catfights

She writes on January 27th:

Actually, there are two names in the transcript associated with the casts. I discussed these casts with Jim Cardoza perhaps a year ago. He suggested that some local person created the fake tracks. If so, perhaps one or both the named people were victims, not hoaxers. I would hate to accuse anyone of hoaxing on a public forum without exceedingly good evidence. Here we have a hoax but not enough evidence to point a finger at the guilty person.

However, I am suspicious of all the sightings etc that the naturalist claims to have had. If any of you reading this live in New England and are familiar with the Berkshires–is it common to have so many sightings there? – Helen McGinnis

McGinnis is ignoring the long history of sightings in that area and her debunking may be groundless. McGinnis and the ECF’s members have been routinely calling most tracks found in the East hoaxes.

Eastern Cougar Catfights

Then there’s the case of the Alleghany footcasts (directly above and at bottom) that the ECF claim are fakes too. John Lutz’s take on what has been happening with those tracks found recently in Pennsylvania merely reflects another chapter in the two organizations’ dispute. Lutz’s email, which also turns personal, was sent out to his associates on January 21st, and follows:

We were advised this week by longtime law enforcement friend who belongs to both EPRN & ECF that members of Eastern Cougar Foundation has begun a smear campaign against the Eastern Puma Research Network.

They dispute the track evidence of an adult puma & cub that we found on Alleghany Front last February is a hoax, claiming the tracks were from some sort of material that one of the smear campaigners created him or herself.

We call it “sour grapes” from ECF, since we were called on the incident & responded to the scene. The area has had repeated or cluster sightings of mountain lions & a few cubs since the 1930s, for which we have records.

It was our understanding when we originally went on the incident that another phone number (listed to ECF was also called but the person only got a recording).

If there had been a live person at that ECF number, and a live person would have responded immediately like we (EPRN) did, they could have possibly found the same evidence. The only difference would be, we (EPRN) wouldn’t have made up a smear campaign against ECF.

I wonder if ECF would have made up a smear campaign against themselves if they had found the same evidence we did??

I was deeply disappointed when Todd Lester didn’t come out & dispute untruths that were spread by ECF members when EPRN’s Chief Pennsylvania Researcher Roger Cowburn died on February 18th, 2006, but that was sort of another smear campaign against EPRN.

Roger Cowburn

The obituary and life record of Roger Cowburn (above) was allegedly besmeared by some in the ECF, apparently only because he was an active EPRN fieldworker who believed he had found evidence of eastern cougars.

Todd Lester & I had been friends from the mid-1980s, when he began his interest with cougars & learned much of his data from the late Frank & Ellen Weed at their animal compound in southern Florida. Frank & Ellen had raised cougars for 40 years & even was helping Todd in obtaining a license to keep a cougar in West Virginia.

Todd originally was a member of our Eastern Puma Research Network & only left us to form the Eastern Cougar Research Center in North Springs, WV. in 1995.

Prior to then in 1990, he owned the Black Powder Kennels which supplied animals for restocking programs, especially raccoons, which WV DNR opposed.

I have always maintained the highest degree of integrity in all my professions including track enforcement & investigations, cryptozoology & strange phenomena studies and since the mid-1960s mountain lions & black panthers.

Its become a very sad day in America when even professional scientists stoop so low as being sour grape campaigners….– John A. Lutz
Director and Founder
Eastern Puma Research Network

Captured Cougar

Credit for video capture (no pun intended) from KSTP-TV.

The sightings of a mystery cat in a Willmar, Minnesota neighborhood resulted in the capture of a mountain lion (above) on the first of February 2006. The recent sightings of a cougar in Manitoba were confirmed with the following photograph.

Maintoba Cougar Photo

Click on this image of a Manitoba cougar for a larger version.

Eastern Cougar Catfights

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

12 Responses to “Eastern Cougar Mysteries”

  1. fuzzy responds:

    What a childish waste of energies!

  2. kittenz responds:

    On December 13 2006, a woman posted this sighting at http://www.cryptozoology.com:

    cougar killed on Bluegrass Parkway, KY
    posted by Stephanie C on December 13, 2006

    I was driving towards Lexington KY this evening (Wed 12/13/06) about 8:30 pm on Blue Grass Parkway. About 40 miles outside of Lexington, I saw what had to be a dead cougar lying on the right side of the parkway. It was gold in color and big in size (had to be over 100 lbs). The tail was quite long and was almost in the road. The head of cat was pointing away from the road toward rock embankment. The tail is what left no doubt – definitely a huge cat with a prominent, long cat tail. No mistaking this for a deer or big dog!

    The post included her email address (which I have omitted here) so I sent her the following email:

    Hello Stephanie,
    I saw your post at cryptozoology.com.
    Did you report your sighting to anyone so that it could be investigated? I live in eastern Kentucky, and I saw a young puma running beside the highway up near Cave Run Lake several years ago. I’ve been tracking Kentucky sightings and I’m curious to know more about yours.

    To which she replied:
    A lady from the Eastern Cougar Foundation went back to the mile markers I remembered seeing the cat (she went to site at least 36 hours after I reported it on the internet) and didn’t see anything -however she did see a dead house cat that she believes I might have mistaken for a big cat (?).
    Who knows? I have traveled the highways of many states with my job for over 10 years and I have never seen a house cat this big – and I have seen a lot of road kill!! Even if it was bloated from decomposition (?) – which it did not appear to be…
    oh well – next time I will have my digital camera with me!! sorry could not be more help. Stephanie

    The article posted here makes me wonder just how thoroughly (if at all) Stephanie’s roadkilled puma sighting was investigated.

  3. Mnynames responds:

    This reminds me of the “bone wars” between the paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, where their digging teams would try to sabotage each other, badmouth them to locals, and in at least one instance, dynamite fossils they didn’t have time to excavate themselves so that they wouldn’t fall into the hands of their “enemies.” Tragic waste of irreplaceable resources…

  4. Georgia_Bigfoot responds:

    Having corresponded with the ECF in the past and having received a quite rude and unprofessional response I can’t say that I’m surprised by this turn of events.

    It’s a shame most certainly, but not a surprise.

  5. Darkstream responds:

    This sort of infighting is the main reason why I left Henry Franzoni’s Bigfoot mailing list back in 1996/1997 when Eric Beckjord and his fans were smearing list regulars who didn’t believe in their psychic alien invisible Bigfeet theories. 😉 It was hard having rational discussions when they used ad hominem attacks on me. I just ended up getting heated and hurt. However, being older and wiser I now know this sort of silliness comes with the territory. Niche focus groups generate these clashes of egos. The best response is to take the higher path and not respond to their accusations. Or as my younger, more sagacious brother once told me, never argue with crazy people. Unfortunately, that’s not as easy to do as say.

    I hope that EPRN is able to weather this storm. They have passion and belief on their side. I wish them luck in their efforts.

  6. tirademan responds:

    Well, there are so many sighting and stories of panthers and cougars in the east at http://www.newspaperarchive.com that it is incredible. I guess skeptics don’t like to read, or look into history.

    Here is just one letter to the editor I found from 1947!

    Then again, this guy didn’t have bigfoot on his possibility list in 1947 either! 🙂


    14—The Berkshire Evening Eagle, Thursday, Sept. 4, 1947
    It’s a Panther
    To the Editor of THE EAGLE:—

    For the past two years or so I have been reading the various pieces in The Eagle about a “Thing” which has been seen or heard in the surrounding territory. There has been little doubt in my mind, from ihe beginning, but that this animal is a panther. In fact, without having read any of these reports, I felt sure there was a panther roaming about because I heard a panther scream while up in the mountains west of Pittsfield one night a year ago this fall. I was raised in country where panthers were quite common. I have seen them, seen their habits and depredations and heard their blood-chilling scream on many an occasion. There is no mistaking that scream once you are accustomed to hearing it. The panther, puma, cougar and mountain lion are ail one and the same animal, and roam far and wide in their hunting grounds. It is not unusual for a panther to cover from 30 to 40 miles in one night’s foraging. I have known of panther hunts, with hounds and horses, to last three days and cover 200 miles. Panthers do not necessarily stay in one region, but wander across hundreds of miles of mountain ranges, especially out o£ the mating season. There is no logical reason why a panther could not be in this vicinity. They are found from Canada to Mexico and could roam into this region as well as elsewhere. Admittedly, they are far more numerous in the West, but are by no means extinct in the East, nor barred from roaming down into this section from Canada or elsewhere, if their inclinations or train of circumstances should lead them to it. A panther is primarily concerned with food, and will eat a sheep in. Berkshire County as well as in Quebec. I took part in a panther hunt near the little village of Amsden, Vt. This panther had been killing livestock on surrounding farms for months, and was hold enough so that he became in the habit of stalking woodsmen. He was finally tracked down and found upon a ledge overlooking the highway and settlement. He was killed, but others came to the region. In one winter I found the carcasses of 19 deer which were killed and partly eaten by a panther, or panthers, in this same section of Vermont. There are many cases on record where panthers have attacked human beings. I had refrained from adding my bit to the news items on this subjects because of the many ridiculous remarks made by the inexperienced skeptics who have the unfounded conviction that for some unknown reason, a panther could not come here. I was quite intrigued by the conjecture as to whether it was a panther or bear track found in Stephentown. There is no comparison whatever, a panther’s being round like a large dog’s, only much larger, while a bear’s is long and has a distinct heel on the hind feet. Also, panthers make tracks from 12 to 15 feet apart when loping along and much greater distances when stretching for speed.
    Windsor, Vt.
    Not an Invention

  7. btl responds:

    What amazes me the most is where this evidence came from… North Adams, where I live, where I grew up.

    I’ve been down the cobble trail many many times. While itself, not very remote there are many connecting trails (of note: appalachian and long) from it. I know where my first hike of the spring will be!

  8. Carol Maltby responds:


    When I saw what I am pretty sure was a cougar here in Ulster County, New York (in the Catskill Mountains) last July, I went on to the net immediately to research. I emailed the Eastern Cougar Foundation within a couple of hours of the sighting, and I think I may have possibly called their hotline too. They never responded. While I was waiting to hear from them to get an answer about where I should send what might have been its scat for analysis, I lost track of the baggie. It eventually got into the freezer. I don’t know how good its DNA might be at this point.

    But if I do find it, what places would you suggest I send the little nuggets for testing? I think there are 3 or 4.

    I did tell some DEC cops that I ran into about the sighting, but they were so underwhelmed about whether this might have any bearing on the activities of all the lone anglers at the edge of the reservoir that I didn’t bother to make a formal report to the police.

    Can you recommend a website that has sound files of eastern woodlands mammals, that might include a cougar’s sounds and other cries that might be alarming if we don’t recognize them?


  9. CASReaves responds:

    Between the time Stephanie C reported the dead cat to ECF and the time they got there, I have NO doubt whatsoever that somebody stopped and loaded that carcass into a car or truck and took it home – who’s going to pass up a free cougar skin?

  10. Todd responds:

    I seriously doubt that there’s another person on this planet that wants to document evidence of the existence of cougars in the eastern U.S. more than I do.

    And I will personally stand behind any evidence that will stand up to scientific scrutiny. But when it doesn’t, no “true” researcher should.

    I have a number of track casts that I have found over the years that did not meet the stiff requirements to gain a confirmation. I’m still confident that they came from cougars, but I don’t boast about them and I certainly don’t cry “Sour Grapes” when I get turned down. I just move on and continue to search for more evidence.

    I’m not out to debunk anyone or to put another group down. Show me real evidence, and I’ll stand behind you 100%.

  11. mystery_man responds:

    Good post, Todd. Now if we only had more people thinking like that in Bigfoot research!

  12. Chrysalis responds:

    I am a long-time EPRN researcher living in Massachusetts. In my experience the so-called wildlife experts are not always as competent and knowledgeable as I am. I have learned to document, photograph, and get witnesses for my investigations. I have calmly got into heated discussions with people here who refuse to listen to other people, view evidence, and treat the mountain lion situation with any care at all. I believe that all sightings a few years ago in Rochester, MA were treated with contempt and then some wildlife officials “removed” the puma that created these sightings. I once stood with a so-called expert in MA wildlife and he could not tell the difference between a flock of double-crested cormorants and a flock of Canada geese flying overhead! I found and documented a Blanding’s turtle for the Mass Natural Heritage Program in a stream in southeastern MA. I got 2 witnesses from MA Wildlife, private citizen, town officials and photographed the animal. Afterwards I was accused of planting turtles and a professor, so-called wildlife expert, called me a liar in a college classroom to his students. I just keep on doing the work and know it is more important than my ego or theirs. I just know that those who go out of their way to debunk sincere and dedicated people who are experienced and knowledgeable are an impediment to getting the real answers to these mysteries. I will be moving to Cooper, ME in Washington County in a few years and have already talked to people in the area who have had lynx and mountain lion sightings over the year in that area. Most people just look and are disgusted by the backstabbing that can go on in their presence by investigators so they d o not report the sighting.

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