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Adirondack Explorer

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Grainy photo of a cat …

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I got a call earlier this week from a man who says he saw a cougar in late March near state Route 28n in Minerva, a quiet area in the central Adirondacks.

Apparently, there are a lot of deer there, and it would make a good hunting ground, he said. The man said his friend had a photo of the cougar that showed the animal’s long tail, a characteristic that is commonly used to distinguish it from bobcats, which have short tails. He said the animal was more than three feet long.

Later that day, the man sent me an image of the cat. Personally, I think the animal in the grainy image looks like a house cat. What are your thoughts? Could this be a cougar? Have you seen evidence of cougars on any of your trips in the Adirondack front country or backcountry? What wild animals have you seen?

Scientists have said from time to time that there may be cougars that roam through the Adirondacks in search of new territories,  but there’s no evidence they have a breeding population here. Some sightings have also been chalked up to the animals being pet cougars that have been released or escaped.

If cougars ever did populate the Adirondacks, it would change the way people recreate in the woods. Extra precautions would have to be taken, and perhaps some people would be reluctant to hike alone.

Here are links to two articles: One is about a house cat people thought was a cougar; the other article is about a real cougar that went through the Adirondacks.

Please leave your comments related to this topic below.

Mike Lynch

Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer. His favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing.

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28 Responses

  1. Mark Stephen says:

    Ain’t no cougar, house cat (or bobcat with a tail extension )

  2. Dana Rohleder says:

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. I don’t believe much can be ascertained by the photo, other than ruling out a bobcat. It isn’t close enough to anything to help gauge size – and without prints or scat, it is just a poor photograph of a cat in a field.

    • Dana Rohleder says:

      Another point is behavior. It would be pretty unlikely for any big cat (ambush predator) to be standing in a field in broad daylight looking up into the trees. Most big cats are extremely wary and would more likely run across a field or circumvent it entirely. They would also typically be paying more attention to the ground for larger prey.

  3. John Gregoire says:

    I concur with Dana. Despite numerous claims from all over the state, no one has submitted a good photo, print, hair or scat. There have been numerous fraudulent photos of Pumas with very obvious Rocky Mountain vegetation. The poor cat that died in CT was the only recent transiter, most likely a dispersal animal looking for territory and a mate. This one looks like a domestic cat.

    That said most biologists believe that Pumas could not survive here due to the sheer number of people and cars in the area. Even combining the ADK with the Northeast Kingdom of VT and northern NH would offer the cats little safe range.

  4. Zach says:

    Definitely not a mountain lion; it’s a house cat. Aside from the size relative to the vegetation, it’s body isn’t as long as a cougars. I have seen a cougar up close and had a great one minute stare down with it while in Arizona. I’ve been hiking in the Adirondacks for twenty years, backcountry fishing there for about seven, and as of last year, hunting; I’ve never seen evidence of a cougar. I also monitored two dozen trail cameras for TNC, and THTLT, for 2 years in the Black River valley with no evidence

  5. Brittany Christenson says:

    It’s hard to say from the photo here, but I would believe it.

    I saw a cougar near the Crown Point Bridge two years ago at dawn with my grandmother. We were on our way to my sister-in-law’s baby shower and we had to stop the car to let the cougar slink across the road.

    Just last spring, I saw a cougar cross Route 9 in Peru, NY in broad daylight.

    Both sightings were close- within 30 feet- and the long, muscular bodies and long tails are unmistakable.

  6. Al West says:

    I have trapped and hunted throughout the Adirondacks for better than 50 years.Never once have I seen any sign of a cougar (puma), nor have I ever known of one to have been shot or trapped.
    The long tail in the photo eliminates the animal from being a lynx or bobcat. Fisher have bushy tails and are lower to the ground. Sometimes feral housecats get fairly large.I believe the animal in the photo is a housecat.
    Thank you,
    Al West

  7. Kevin says:

    Agreed that photos of paw prints in the snow with a ruler next to it for scale would be required.

    We had a lean cat that used to weigh 16 pounds and was well over 2 feet long not counting its long tail. I’m going with regular cat.

    If there were a mountain lion in the area there would be other sightings, there would be tracks, there would be scat. My wife and I hiked in California in an park area with signage noting the possibility of mountain lions. Within 100 yards of entering the trail we came upon mountain lion scat. Why is no one finding scat?

  8. I believe it’s a house cat with its right rear leg outstretched in the snow. I cannot therefore rule out a bobcat (look closely at the base of he tail/leg), but it’s definitely all wrong for a cougar.

    I do think there are some legitimate cougar sightings and, aside from the one tracked from South Dakota to Connecticut, I think those are almost all escaped or released pets.

    Perhaps 95+% of alleged cougar sightings, including alleged trail cam shots (I’ve had many sent to me) are misidentifications of house cats, bobcats, coyotes, an escaped melanistic jaguar, etc. With all the folks using trail cams and all the cars and cell phone cameras, there should be some valid images if there were truly cougars here.

    However, scientific studies have shown that cougars could live here if reintroduced, which would be great for restoring a balance, as deer populations are eliminating forest regeneration and ground-nesting bird reproduction in much of the Northeast.

    • Suzanne says:

      I believe you’re right, Larry. It’s way too chunky for a cougar, although it could be a bobcat with its leg outstretched. It looks pretty furry for a house cat–Main Coons are big, but have bushy tails, which this guy does not. That said, I do think there are occasional cougars around. One of my friends is a farmer who drives down to New York with his produce, and returns home at night on the Thruway. A few years ago he was approaching the Catskills somewhere near Woodstock when a large animal bolted across the highway in front of him. He said it was definitely a cougar, had a very long tail. He knew it wasn’t a coyote, because he sees plenty of them around the farm.

  9. Ed says:

    It does not look like a cougar. The head looks too furry and the body looks squat. Although there is nothing measurable to compare it to for size, it looks kind of small. House cat or an exotic small wild cat from another part of the world maybe?

  10. Kathy says:

    Been domestic cat owned forever and that pose is pure home cat to me..
    Of course I wasn’t there…but that was my immediate impression.

  11. Rich says:

    The body shape looks like a house cat. I spent 13 years working as a forester in the north Idaho back country. I saw over a dozen cougar (mountain lion), including one angry adult at very close range. It charged me, stopping about 16 feet away, before turning tail. The body shape of this cat isn’t quite right for a cougar. And the scale is deceiving in the blown up photo. That’s my opinion for what it is worth.

  12. BLAIR N WOLTJEN says:

    House cat. He should have taken a photo of the track with an object of known size. That would provide more conclusive evidence.

  13. Mark says:

    Proportions are wrong for cougar, sorry. I found what believe were couger tracks in the pepperbox wilderness in 1973. Unfortunately, the polariod photo I took eventually faded with age. I’m still hoping to see one again.

  14. Susan Gaffney says:

    The year that Little Tupper was opened to the public, my daughter and I were driving on the road from Little Tupper to Lake Lila, and we saw a cougar cross the road right in front of us. It had that long body and long tail. We both felt sure that it was a cougar.

  15. Ray12997 says:

    Definitely a photo of a house cat sized animal, judging by the nearby vegetation. A good technique is to duplicate the photo with a life size silhouette of a cougar (about 5′ long, not including tail) to see what a cougar would have looked like in this photo. NYS DEC has comparison photos using this technique.

  16. Judy sniffen says:

    Looks like a house at to me!

  17. I saw a cougar run across Rte 28 as I was driving to work at the Indian Lake Health Center at least 10 years ago. I was cruising up the long straightaway known as “Fagen’s Flats” just below Old State Route C on an early winter day which was clear and visibility was excellent. It ran directly across the road about 75-100 yards ahead of me and I got a very good look at it. it’s total length with tail extended was at least half the width of the north/west-bound lane, and it’s tail was at least half as long as its body. It was a tawny tannish gold color and it ran with an easy galloping gait.

  18. Catherine Ballard says:

    As much as I would have liked to see a cougar, I agree with those think the photo is of a house cat. The way the animal holds its head up high is more typical of a domestic cat not a cougar who is so typically in stalking mode with the head held down and forward.

  19. John says:

    House cat. Legs and neck too short, body too fat to be a cougar.

  20. Shane A Holmes says:

    Def looks like a domesticated house cat to me. Based on what is in the image for perspective, that animal is no where near the size one would expect of a Cougar.

  21. I agree with all the logical responses that this is probably a domestic cat. But if you do an online image search for mountain lions, there are many that if viewed as a black silhouette, that you would insist must be a house cat. For example this National Geographic Kids website image of a mountain lion running through snow. https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mountain-lion/#mountain-lion-running-snow.jpg

  22. Joseph Polak says:

    I saw and verified sightings of the mountain lion in Cobleskill NY about 2 years ago. After seeing this cat from about 25 to 30 yards away, I spoke with others who also saw this.
    I then saw a man with a box and an antennae checking the same area leading me to believe that the cat was tagged and the dec was looking for it.

  23. James Close says:


  24. Valerie Pawlewicz says:

    I work at a store in the high peaks (Keene) where we see many hikers each day. Three weeks ago (beginning April) two customers came in after an overnight on a local mountain swearing they had spotted a huge cat track in the mud. They did not have photos. I told them to notify DEC. Sightings help to track this persistent myth or fascinating reality.

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