DEC says mountain lion trail-cam photo “a fake”

2/27/20 update: After the circulation of the image last week, DEC conducted an investigation and concluded it was not authentic.

“DEC Law Enforcement investigated the sighting and the photo and it was determined that the trail cam photo showing the mountain lion was a fake.”

We asked if that meant the photo itself was fake or a real photo from a different part of the country. The DEC responded, “Nothing more to say from DEC at this point.”

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An Ulster County man shared an image of what appears to be a mountain lion he said he caught on a game camera last week.

The animal was photographed in the town of Esopus, off Floyd Ackert Rd. near the town transfer station on West Shore Dr., according to the man, whose name we are not sharing because we do not have permission to do so.

We ran the photo by the Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC], who responded: “The photograph appears to be a mountain lion. However, DEC cannot verify where or when the photograph was taken and encourages the individual who took the photograph to contact DEC.”

The DEC said it did not receive any other recent reports of Mountain Lions in the area.

Some mountain lion facts

  • Mountain lions have not have a native, self-sustaining population in the New York State since the late 1800s, according to DEC. Most sightings of mountain lions (aka cougars, pumas, catamounts) turn out to be bobcats, domestic cats or coyotes, according to the DEC. Confirmed sightings are either exotic pets released or individuals making their way east from their home range. DEC confirmed a mountain lion was in the Lake George area in 2011 before being killed by a car in Connecticut. It was believed to have originated in South Dakota.
  • Mountain Lions weigh from 80-225 pounds (36-103 kg), averaging 140 (64 kg). Length varies from 5-9 feet (150-275 cm); this measurement includes the 26-32 inch (66-82 cm) tail.
  • Their range spreads from the Canadian Yukon to Patagonia in South America, the largest of any living mammal in the Americas.
  • The name “cougar” means “false deer” in Tupi, the language of an Amazonian people. The origin is obvious: while deer are a relatively common sight, mountain lions are extremely elusive, so when you looking through the undergrowth or across a field see a large, 100lb or so, tawny colored animal, chances are your first thought is “deer.”
  • Speaking of deer, this is more of an opinion than fact, but mountain lions appear to be nature’s perfect deer hunter. They kill about a deer a week and have a high success rate. “In the process of natural selection, given a liberal allowance of time, it is the lion’s claw, the lion’s tooth and need, that has given the deer its beauty and speed and grace,” wrote Edward Abbey. Wolves hunt deer too but they hunt in the canine style- a pack coursing the herd, tiring it out, separating the weak and young. A deer did not need to evolve its “beauty and speed and grace” (and reflexes) to the extent it did to stay one step ahead of the wolf.

That deer never stood a chance. 

  • Some mountain lion abilities from mountainlion.org: Mountain lions can: Bound up to 40 feet running; Leap 15 feet up a tree; Climb over a 12 foot fence; Travel many miles at 10 mph; Reach speeds of 50 mph in a sprint
  • Are mountain lions the “cat” in “Catskills”? Unclear. Leslie T. Sharpe in The Quarry Fox: And Other Critters of the Wild Catskills considered the question. The mountain range was apparently named after the creek, but how the creek got its name is lost. Did an early settler see a mountain lion drinking from its waters one day? Or more likely, a bobcat?

There are 25 comments

  1. Chris

    If confirmed by time-stamp and ground-truthed at the location, this would be the first trail-cam photograph of a mountain lion ever documented on the Atlantic seaboard between Nova Scotia and Georgia.

    1. Simba

      Not true. I not only have seen one, with a co-worker, ten years ago, about five AM on rte 23 in Hunter, NY. It was actually a black one, a panther. I also know that, at the cement plants on rte 9W, they consistently had employees reporting seeing, at least, one all along the Hudson River Vly. The DEC denied that they were in NY, however several employees set up field cameras, and caught the cougar, not once but seven times. The DEC would not even take a look, stating that it does not exist here, so the pictures can not be real. The mountain lion is prevalent here in the Hudson Valley, despite what the DEC thinks, and states.

      1. Chris

        Samba, the DEC does not need to be included to make a confirmation. The Cougar Network and the Cougar Rewilding Foundation review evidence independent of the state wildlife agencies all the time. And one can self-publish pics to the Internet or with any local newspaper containing verified time-stamps and locations.

        The Cougar Rewilding Foundation would be happy to review any pics from the cement plant. They can send them to me at spatzcat61@gmail.com.

        Chris Spatz, Rosendale

  2. Toni Dimetri

    They are here among us, even here in Columbia County in the Taconic Range. Saw one about 4 years ago and called the DEC in Albany. Same old story, nope, don’t exist in NYS. Following day had a call from the DEC in Stamford, NY. Explained to the caller that it appeared that the animal had a green collar on. Oh, not one of ours as we tag with black or blue collars, must have been a Bobcat. Well, the cats tail looked to be about 20 inches long, not exactly bobbed. A neighbor saw what appeared to be the same animal two days later further down our road. Convince me that they do not exist here.

  3. Kayla

    Well this article makes me laugh saying we don’t have Mountain Lions when we do not only in New York State but also in New Jersey!! My family hunts and seen them a lot actually recently their has been travelling through the town in live in and it has been seen and heard multiple times I even called fish and game last year and the lady told me their is no such thing in this state which was hilarious but sorry mam but we do have them for a fact… Instead of putting if off that we don’t have them they should educate the people on what to do if you do encounter one!! Come on we don’t live under rocks me personally I think they are beautiful.

  4. Patricia Kelley

    The DEC will take a reported sighting seriously if there is physical evidence of the cougar’s being there. A photo of the animal isn’t enough for them, as it could have been taken somewhere else. They need samples of scat, hair or a photo of foot prints with a ruler or coin to compare the size. If you put a can or something over the footprint to preserve it the DEC investigators can judge it for themselves. I know reliable people who report seeing a cougar crossing Route 214 in Ulster County , and another person who saw one at a roadkill on the Taconic Parkway in Columbia County.For me, the large size and the long tail are very convincing evidence.

    1. Chris

      Patricia, a photograph counts as confirmed evidence if the location of the camera can be established with a time-stamp of when the image was captured. The landowner can remain anonymous and the location does not need to publicized, it just needs to be confirmed.

      Chris Spatz
      Cougar Rewilding Foundation

      1. Kevin light

        I am related to the person that took the photo. It’s actually 1 of 2 photos. Second photo was of the rear end only. The photo was not shared originally on facebook. It was physically given to the DEC officer that came to the house. An investigation was done last week. My relative requested timestamps and identity remained anonymous. The last person my family knew had the photo after my relative that took the picture on a trail cam was the DEC officer. After that it became shared by somebody else. DEC officer(s) or somebody they shared it with.

  5. Bernard

    I’m from California where pumas are common and yes, that is one. I know that Nana from New York City doesn’t like the ” Bad Kitty ” ( Madagascar 2)… but they do control the deer population. Maybe one less trip to the body shop.

  6. Sean

    So, where exactly was the photo taken? When? Who knows, other than the photographer? What does the photographer have to say about it? Why did not photographer not identify himself to DEC and show their biologists where he saw the cat, rather than jump straight to the media? How is it that anyone who thinks he/she has seen a puma where they probably don’t exist suddenly becomes an expert on puma biology, so much so that it seems a good idea (to them) to withhold relevant information from the actual experts, unless that information doesn’t exist? There are periodic reports of pumas along the seaboard and in the mountains, reports by people fully self-assured, downright indignant if you question them at all. But, when it comes to physical evidence, there never seems to be any, no tracks, no scat, no hair, no (deer) kills, no road-killed cats (a common fate of pumas in Florida and all over the west), no independent corroboration (the observer is usually alone and almost always camera-free), almost never any second sightings in the same neighborhood, at least by people who never heard of the first sighting. So, in short, the chances of there being any surviving wild populations of pumas anywhere east of the Mississippi except for Florida are extremely remote. That’s not to say impossible, but given the number of years, and the numbers of people constantly out there where the cats should be, and given that there has been no convincing physical evidence to substantiate any of these sightings, it’s within the shadow of impossible.

  7. Austin

    Regarding the word “Cat” in reference to Catskill Creek (and later, the mountains), according to early Dutch sources quoted by scholar of Mohican history Shirley Dunn in her book The River Indians, “Cat” was a nickname used by the Dutch for a Mohican sachem they knew whose village was located on the creek, hence “Cat’s Creek.” As far as Dunn’s book is concerned it’s unclear at this point whether “Cat” was part of his name in Mohican/Algonquian language, or a translation or symbolic nickname for mountain lion, since “Cat” in Dutch has the same meaning as in English. Hopefully that mystery can be solved; in any case, this is an interesting development.

  8. Robert Piatt

    I recently saw what I’m 95%sl sure was a mountain lion off of Neely Town Rd in Montgomery my. It was walking in front of the entrance to Taylor recycling. Was approximately 7am. I observed it walking into the woods on the right side of the facility. Ps..Im still fortunate to be blessed with 20/20 vision so I’m confident in what I saw.

  9. Bill Hawver

    In the late 90’s or 2000 while deer hunting during the archery season off Ludingtonville Road in Putnam County I believed I spotted a deer moving toward me as I was in my stand on the inside edge of a swamp. As the animal moved out into the open hardwoods I was shocked to see that it was a large cat approx. 60- 70 lbs. with close coloring to a deer. I was approximately 40 yrds. from the animal and was able to see the movement of its muscles as It stalked through the area silently. I thought wow a nice bobcat however I could see the tail that appeared to be almost along as the body which eliminated the chance that it was bobcat. I watched as the cat stopped when it came to a rock wall crossing its path. It put its front paws up on the wall, looked both left and right, jumped the wall and continued on out of sight.
    About two years later there was a news report of a mountain lion being struck by a woman near Danbury Connecticut which is only a few miles from the area in which I had my encounter.
    I do not need to have anyone confirm what I saw and feel so lucky to know personally that they are present.

  10. Mary Raleigh

    Twenty years ago, o
    ne ran in front of my car on Rt. 311 in Patterson, NY at the top of the mountain. I nearly hit it. My daughter and I were shocked to see it. It was not a bobcat. It was larger than a dog, ran low to the ground, with a very long with a long tail.

  11. Ellen

    The DEC is reluctant to admit for some reason we have the same problem in GA. Seeing them isn’t enough..
    I recall living in weskill in 82 someone said pairs of mountain lions were released. Anyway I think they are cool.

  12. Don in Brewster

    I was with a friend when we saw one crossing the road by Stuart’s Fruit Farm in Yorktown Heights New York in October 2018. There is no mistaking what it was. Bobcats don’t have tails like that. I would estimate its weight at 100 pounds or just over.

  13. Kevin Light

    The DEC did investigate, came to the location and took their own photos. Photos were time stamped. My relative does not (did not) want to be identified because of the attention. There were over thousands of photos in one week that were sorted through and there were 2 photos, only this DEC posted. The second is just the rear end leaving the camera view. My relative never contacted the media only contacted the DEC. This is the DEC that posted it.

  14. Larry Brassard. In Central Vermont

    They can see what they want both my son and myself saw a real mountain lion on my property in Vermont 20 years ago on two different days my son shot one day and I really didn’t think it was possible, two days later I saw the same animal and I couldn’t believe my eyes is the most beautiful animal that I had ever seen big stripers yellow and brown head beautiful yellow chest in a long bronze body with a 4 foot tail.So yes it is possible that there is still some roaming around .

  15. JamaicaontheHudson

    “The Katzbergs, as the Dutch called the Catskills Mountains at the time, on account of how many wildcats they found among them, were more than just a photographic interest. The late Washington Irving imparted to them an attraction of romantic character almost as bewitching as that conferred upon the mountains in the vicinity of Loch (Lake) Lomond and Loch (Lake) Katrine by Sir Walter Scott.”- John Werge, “The Evolution of Photography” (1890)

    The “Catskills” is the Anglicized version of the Old Dutch word “Kaatskills”/”Kaaterskills”. It refers to the Kaatsburghs (Wildcat Mountains) which were named for the wildcats or bobcats that were abundant at the time. As for mountain lions, they’re not technically native to area–however who knows what’s in them thar’ hills?

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