Hoaxes and stories you should doubt

There are several kinds of stories.  Sometimes accounts are simply tall tales and people often believe they saw something which may turn out to be something different from what they saw.

I give examples of some of the more frequent accounts I have heard in this area and a couple of internet hoaxes involving mountain lions. Sometimes the same story occurs in slightly different forms.

I. Not that believable stories

The black cougar
Reports of black cougar or (mountain lions) are not infrequent.  While there are black phases of some of the other big cats, no black cougar have ever been confirmed from North America (some have been reported from South America).  The tendency of wildlife officials is to discount any report of a black cougar, but under poor light conditions a cougar could appear almost black.  See the picture on this Texas Park and Wildlife site.  It is also possible that a black cougar sighting is of an escaped pet since both the jaguar and leopard have a black phase.  However, it would be wise not to be dogmatic on this issue since the black phase does exist in South America and I have run across a couple of reports including one from wildlife people that hint that an occasional black phase may occur in North America1.

The collared one the farmer buried
One version of this story I heard, had Iowa DNR officials visiting a farmer (the way I heard it I think it was down in Plymouth County) and asked where the cat was that he killed. The farmer had (so the story goes) killed and buried a cougar that had a collar on it and the officials made him dig it up so they could have the carcass.  The story gains some credibility because too many folks actually believe that the Iowa DNR has a secret program of releasing cougar.

II. Sometimes too good to be true

The cougar with a cub or cubs by themselves
Reports of a cougar with a cub or a cub by itself tend to raise red flags since so far all the confirmed cougar in this area have been males.  However, females will eventually move into Iowa, but then I would expect a number of reports of the female with her cubs from the same area. Many of these reports originate from south of Sioux City and that is the area where I would expect to hear of reproducing cougar, so one should never discount the stories without investigating a bit.  I have heard several reports from a nearby town of cougar cubs.  In one case the observer did not observe a long tail and I suspect it was more likely a bobcat.  In another case, the individual went back to the area later and found under better lighting that the same cat was a very big barnyard cat. Generally young cubs will be in a den, and older cubs will travel with their mother until they disperse at the age of about a year and a half.

III. Internet hoaxes

The great big lion
The reader should be aware that there is currently (in 2004) a hoax making the rounds.  An impressive picture of a person holding a mountain lion is attributed to a new killing or a previous killing. I have seen e-mails in which the same picture was used as evidence of a new shooting in both Kansas and Missouri. In both cases similar text was used, suggesting that it was maintenance people who had shot it.  This picture was also passed around as the lion shot in Sioux County and Wayne County. While this is a picture of a lion that was shot, it was shot in Washington, not in the Midwest.  With their permission I provide a link to Truth or Fiction's web page that exposes this hoax.

The mule attacking the lion
Several pictures of a mule attacking a mountain lion have been making the rounds. When these pictures were shared on a mammal list (mammal-l) several people wondered if it were not a dead lion (killed in a hunt) that the mule was reacting to.

The cougar stalking a mule deer
This is a great picture of a cougar stalking a mule deer.  While this pictured has been attributed to Iowa, mule deer are found further west and the trees (gymnosperms) are from out west. Click here to see Ron Andrews' (Iowa DNR) press release on this and other hoaxes.

1The British Columbia web page on cougar [accessed last on August 24, 2009] has the following statement, "Black cougar have been reported from South America and one was reported several years ago in the North Okanagan area, while white or very light-coloured cougar are infrequently reported. from British Columbia."   The wild life biologist, Dave Spalding, who wrote the text of this page thinks there probably was one in the area back in the 1970's, but cautions the reader to remember that this was based on sighting(s)  reported to him by one of his conservation officers and not on a killed cougar [phone conversation with the author on October 14, 2005].  Another interesting report by Chris Bolongia states (Bolgiano and Roberts 2995) that the only credible North America reference to a black cougar that he found is by  Claude Barnes. In his "1960 book, the Cougar or Mountain Lion [Claude] wrote that the only black cougar he had personally seen was the skin of a cat killed by a hunter in Colorado. The skin disappeared into history" p. 9.  However, without the physical evidence of a skin or a good picture neither of these rise to the level of scientific proof.


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Barnes, C. 1960 Cougar or Mountain Lion. The Ralton Co., Salt Lake City, Ut. 176pp.

Bolgiano, C.  and Roberts, J. 2005. Eastern Cougar: Historic Accounts, Scientific Investigations, and New Evidence. Stackpole books. 246 pp.

Page created by James Mahaffy in December of 2004
File updated on:  August 24, 2009 8:01 AM