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Take Big-Cat Stories with a Big Grain of Salt

Mar 03, 2010

I just got an e-mail forward with several photos and some text about the supposed sighting of three mountain lions in Missouri. One of the photos showed three cougars standing or sitting in snow around a red pickup truck in a driveway.

The item was an obvious hoax. For one thing, the story only identified the location as the home of a sister of a friend in “rural” Missouri. It claimed that the friend is a “wildlife photo-journalist” and “a nationally renown authority on predation/cougars … all thru out the Midwest.” Very impressive credentials, but without the guy’s name, the names of the people whose home the cats supposedly visited or the location, there is no way to check the story. A wealth of lurid details without a single verifiable fact is the essence of a hoax.

The item also included a clever line about thinking twice when your spouse asks you to go out and start the car for them on a winter morning. In my experience, people who provide serious information don’t make up jokes to go with the facts.

A gullible person who didn’t smell a rat right away might become suspicious after noticing that the truck has Colorado license plates. Further proof this is a scam can be found by searching the Internet for similar reports. It turns out this same set of photos has cropped up in items claiming they were taken Idaho, North Dakota and Michigan.

You might dismiss this as harmless nonsense if it weren’t for the fact that gullible readers believe such hoaxes and get scared silly for no reason. This particular scammer encourages paranoia by claiming--again through an unidentified “expert”--“the general public is not aware of how many of them (mountain lions) there actually are throughout the Midwest, but there are more than one would think.”

Although the scammer discussed here said the Conservation Department does not want publicity of mountain lion sightings “for obvious reasons,” he doesn’t say what those reasons are. In fact, there is no reason to deny real mountain lion sightings. That is why the Missouri Department of Conservation formed its Mountain Lion Response Team in 1997, after a handful of verifiable mountain lion reports. The MLRT takes its task very seriously, responding quickly and professionally to reports of mountain lion sightings where there is physical evidence. Such evidence includes photos, video, tracks, hair or other sources of DNA, fresh kills that fit mountain lion behavior or an actual mountain lion body.

The Conservation Department always announces such sightings publicly. You can see a list of every verified mountain lion sighting in Missouri’s recent history at www.mdc.mo.gov/nathis/mammals/mlion/sightings.htm.

Internet rumors get passed around because some people would rather believe a fantastic story than know if it is true. You don’t have to be a dupe, though. Next time you see a startling claim about mountain lions, black panthers or Bigfoot, check a rumor-debunking site, such as Snopes.com, or truthorfiction.com. If you don’t find anything there, go back to the source and ask exactly when and where the sighting occurred. Ask for names and contact information for those who supposedly saw it. If this information isn’t available, the claim is bogus.

Comments

I lived in Missouri for years and never saw or heard of ANY mountain lions or sightings.

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