Giant Cat Spotted in Ohio
It was big, tan, and had a long tail. That’s how one Ohio resident described the creature she saw from just 200 feet away as it moved through the tall grass near her house over Memorial Day weekend. She says she got a good look at the animal’s face, and that it was definitely a cat. Her theory? She saw a mountain lion.
Mountain lions were wiped out of much of their historic range in the lower 48 states. Once found from Canada down through South America, mountain lions—also called pumas, cougars or panthers—only survive in the U.S. in the western third of the country and in a tiny population in Florida. The eastern cougar is listed as an endangered species and was gone from most of its range by the early 1900s. Or was it?
Each year, sightings of large cats are reported in eastern states. The most recent comes from Ohio but earlier this month, a hunter in Arkansas got a photo of a cougar using a hidden camera. Reports are common in places like Michigan and New York , where there are large tracts of remote wooded areas and lots of white-tailed deer, the cougar’s main prey. After all, if white-tailed deer and black bears, both which also suffered massive population declines, can now be found in numbers greater than pre-European times in parts of their range, why couldn’t remnant cougar populations have survived and be expanding?
Unfortunately, the best evidence suggests otherwise. Despite sightings like the ones in Ohio and Arkansas, signs of these big cats that are common in areas with wild populations are lacking in the East. If the cats where there in viable numbers, tracks, territorial scratch marks, remnants of prey, scat and roadkilled cats would be found. Recent research expeditions mounted in NY, NJ, PA, MD, VA, WV, and KY all failed to find evidence of cougars in the wild in those states. Wildlife officials believe that most sightings are simply misidentifications of other animals such as bobcats, coyotes, large dogs or deer. Some are hoaxes. The few cases where cougars have been confirmed were animals that had likely been released or escaped from captivity, or a rare individual that wandered in from the West.
While it’s probably unlikely that a viable breeding populations of wild eastern cougars have survived, given time and strong conservation efforts, mountain lions from the West could one day re-colonize former habitat in the East, which would be a cool thing indeed.
Learn more about the mountain lion and other big cats.