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Talk of Mountain Lions in Pennsylvania is pure fiction

Commentary

June 15, 2008
By Walt Young
About 30 years ago, I worked with a fellow who gave me some interesting and useful advice. “Young man,” he said, “around here you’ll be smart not to believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.” I won’t go into the reasons why, but over time, that suggestion often turned out to be a valuable one.

I would like to modify that advice somewhat and direct it to all the folks who fell for the recent E-mail scam about a large mountain lion being killed on the highway near Altoona: “When it comes to the Internet, don’t believe anything you see, read or hear.”

In case you didn’t get to see this latest installment of Internet nonsense, let me congratulate you for not having any friends silly enough to waste their time and yours by forwarding such junk about via E-mail. The hoax E-mail comprised two photos of a man posing with a huge mountain lion in a cluttered garage and a short message that avowed the big cat had been killed on the highway near Altoona. Someone sent this to me almost two weeks ago, and I thought little of it, because I seem to remember those same pictures being circulated about a year ago. I forget where the cat was supposed to have been killed then, but I figured few folks would bite on the scam this time around.

That certainly wasn’t the case as seemingly everyone who knew how to hit the “forward” button on their E-mail program apparently broadcast the hoax to everyone in their address books. So for at least the last week and a half, I’ve been getting calls and letters almost every day about it. Last Thursday, even my very levelheaded sister-in-law E-mailed me asking if it were true. Enough, already.

There are no mountain lions (aka cougars, pumas or panthers) in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the Northeast, nor have there been for at least 100 years or more. I know some folks like to cling to some warped romantic notion that these big cats still skulk about Penn’s Woods and do so almost completely undetected by the mere 12 million or so of us humans who live here. Get over it; that just isn’t so.

I also know many folks, some of them dear friends of mine, who honestly believe they have seen a mountain lion somewhere in Pennsylvania. I truly believe they saw something that appeared strange or different, but you can bet the house it wasn’t a mountain lion. Just ask someone in law enforcement how unreliable most eyewitness accounts are in general.

So here’s the scoop on that most impressive cat of Internet legend. The big cougar was killed by a vehicle — in northern Arizona, not Pennsylvania. The fellow in the pictures accompanying the scam E-mail is an officer with the Arizona Department of Public Safety who was dispatched to the scene to put the animal down after it had been critically injured when struck by a truck. For those who still have the photo on their computer, look closely at the upper left corner, and you will see a set of mule deer antlers, a rather strong clue that the picture was likely taken somewhere in the West. And just to show that good old Pennsylvania doesn’t lead the league in gullible, this same hoax was also reported to have been perpetrated recently in Arkansas and West Virginia.

Finally, if you want further confirmation of the hoax or haven’t seen the photos I’ve referred to, you see them on the following Web site from West Virginia: http://www.hurherald.com/cgi-bin/db_scripts/articles?Action=user_view&db=articles_hurherald&id=27669.
 
 

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