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Question of the Month
August 2012

Mountain Lions in Pennsylvania?
Can so many people be wrong?

bobcat bobcat

All of the above images are of bobcats. Note the size of the tail, the pointed ears, the speckled coat, the basic lack of white underneath.


puma pumapumapuma
All of the above are Mountain Lions, or Pumas, or Cougars. Note the long, usually thick tail. The rounded ears, the more visible white on the chest, the lack of spots, the huge hind quarters.

Although size can be difficult to determine in the field, a puma will be three or four times larger than a bobcat. The head of the puma is small in comparision to a house cat when compared to the entire body.

Can so many people be so wrong?

Periodically, via Google searches, I receive reports from people who believe they had seen a mountain lion in Pennsylvania, or in other mid-Atlantic states. I usually follow-up on these reports and, via email or phone conversations, I receive more details. Only once has anyone later determined that they had misidentified the cat, seeing a bobcat and not a mountain lion.

See also:
What does a Mountain Lion look like on a game camera?
Is there a Mountain Lion Conspiracy?
More Questions about Pumas in Pennsylvania
Are there Mountain Lions (Pumas, Cougars) in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic States?

Many of the reports I receive are extremely credible. In July and August I received seven different reports, and everyone involved had done a search of some type to compare images of bobcats and pumas. As you can see from the above images it is very difficult to confuse the two if you have a good view.

To be fair, I've also spoken with people who, at first, thought they'd seen a puma only to find, to their embarassment, that they were looking at a house cat! I've done this myself once, in Tanzania, when I saw a black house cat that I thought was a black leopard! The cat was far enough away that I couldn't get a size reference, and I believed the cat was further away than it actually was.

However, many of my reports were at distances that people knew, and as you look at the images of the puma there really is a big difference in color and shape between a puma and a house cat.

In only one report had an official from the Pennsylvania Game Commision, a local warden, actually agree with the person reporting the sighting. Everyone else, when reporting, were frustrated as they were told they had seen a bobcat. Check out the tails of the two! This will be one of your best identification marks, along with size.

I've spoken to PGC personnel, two being friends, and neither believe there are pumas in Pa. One cited how a bobcat's tail can be much longer than you expect, although I've never seen a bobcat tail longer than, at most, twice the size of the tails illustrated above of the bobcat. I don't believe someone's imagination could stretch a six inch long tail to three feet!

Interestingly, the US Fish and Wildllife Service has declared the Eastern Puma extinct, except for the Florida population known as the Florida panther. At one point, there was debate whether that cat should be protected, since its genes were diluted from escapees or released pumas that originated in South America or our West. It was decided that this shouldn't influence the decision and, in fact, an infusion of new genes produces a hybrid vigor, lessening the chance of in-breeding.

One might argue that the eastern puma is extinct, but that does not mean that there are not pumas (mountain lions, cougars) in the east. Where they always here as a relic population? Did they migrate south from Canada? Are they all the product of the off-spring of pumas that escaped their owners or were released? Who knows?

Interesting, too, are the reports I've heard from people who were told that they would be in big trouble if they shot a puma. This, after they were told that there were no pumas in Pa. I've looked in the PGC game laws booklet and saw nothing on this, which I guess you could conclude means a puma would not be legal to shoot. If it were, it would be listed. However, if it doesn't exist, and if someone saw one, wouldn't there be a worry that it was a dangerous escapee?

I hope no one ever shoots a puma to prove their existence here, but I hope someone gets a great photo, of the cat, of a road-kill, of tracks, and that I see it. I've seen hoaxes, of pumas carrying deer shot with game cameras, but these were of western cats. Hopefully, we'll see the real thing.

If you see a puma (mountain lion-cougar), contact me. Compare any game camera image with the shots above, or this game camera image, to confirm your identification. Good luck, and let me know!

Questions of the Month

What does a Mountain Lion look like on a game camera?
Monopod Field Use - Does it work?

Is there a Mountain Lion Conspiracy?
What gear do you need for Antarctica?

What gear is essential for being in the field?

How Easy is NIK's HDR Program to use?

What is the most endangered big cat to photograph?

Why did we drop our NANPA membership?

What is the best $69 you can spend in photography?

More Questions about Pumas in Pennsylvania

Are the Latest Fast CF Cards worth the Expense?

How does the 7D hold up in a recent shoot?

Which is the better camera, the Mark IV or the 7D?

Are there Mountain Lions (Pumas, Cougars) in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic States?

Why is bat photography so difficult?

What do I think of the Canon 1D Mark IV?

Why do I advocate manual exposure so avidly?
Where can I find Depth of Field reference charts?

What is the Keboko backpack? Is it the New Best Pack?
Is there a correct position for the upright on a Wimberley actionhead?

How, Who, and Why? The story behind our new web site.

Archived Questions of the Month
Most of my original Questions of the Month for the last several
years are available through this link. The 'look' is from my
original web site, although if I ever have enough time I might
redo these pages to match the new web site But that's not
a high priority.