A big cat but no lion: Pa. Game Commission puts speculation to rest

By Tom Venesky - [email protected]
In the first photo, the cat does have the tawny color of a mountain lion but lacks the long tail. In the second photo, the black spots on the belly and legs identify the feline as a bobcat. Both were taken in South Abington Township, Lackawanna County. - Facebook photos
In the first photo, the cat does have the tawny color of a mountain lion but lacks the long tail. In the second photo, the black spots on the belly and legs identify the feline as a bobcat. Both were taken in South Abington Township, Lackawanna County. - Facebook photos

A family’s security camera captured a few images of a large cat in late August, but it’s not the type of feline that many people imagined was lurking in the woods.

Photos of the cat, which were taken in South Abington Township, Lackawanna County, were posted to Facebook by WNEP’s Kurt Aaron, setting off rampant speculation.

Many people believed the large feline was a mountain lion — a species that hasn’t existed in the wild in Pennsylvania for more than 100 years.

But the Pennsylvania Game Commission says the photos are of a bobcat, not a mountain lion.

According to Bill Williams, information and education supervisor for the Game Commission’s Northeast Region in Dallas, there are several indicators that point toward the animal being a bobcat.

“It’s low to the ground, it doesn’t appear longer than the gate in the photo and there’s no tail,” Williams said. “It appears to be a bobcat.”

And it appears the case of mistaken identity is nothing new.

Williams said his office receives a couple of dozen reports each year about suspected mountain lion sightings.

So far, he said, none of them have been proven. Usually, the sightings are house cats that were spotted at a deceiving angle or in certain light conditions to make them appear larger. Bobcats are also often confused for mountain lions, Williams said, but sometimes the reports are simply nothing more than a hoax.

“Someone takes a picture of a mountain lion from somewhere else, it gets sent around as being seen in Pennsylvania,” Williams said. “But sometimes people just believe that there are mountain lions here and they tend to fill in the blanks whenever a photo surfaces.”

Still, it can be easy to confuse a bobcat for a mountain lion at times, and Williams himself almost made the mistake. Several years ago when he was a district officer patrolling Sullivan County, a large cat ran across the road just before dark.

“I saw the way it bounded across the road and the size, and my brain just filled in the blanks that I just saw a mountain lion,” recalled Williams. “But when I turned around and looked at the spot, I saw it was a bobcat. That proved to me how easy it is to trick yourself.”

Williams acknowledged there are people who would like to see mountain lions return to Pennsylvania as a symbol of wilderness, but right now there are no wild, reproducing populations in the state.

“Of all the reports we get, none are ever in the winter when there’s snow and we can see a track,” Williams said. “People have thousands of trail cameras in the woods today and there are hunters pursuing coyotes during the winter, so you would think a cat would turn up if they were out there.”

In the first photo, the cat does have the tawny color of a mountain lion but lacks the long tail. In the second photo, the black spots on the belly and legs identify the feline as a bobcat. Both were taken in South Abington Township, Lackawanna County.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_BC2.jpgIn the first photo, the cat does have the tawny color of a mountain lion but lacks the long tail. In the second photo, the black spots on the belly and legs identify the feline as a bobcat. Both were taken in South Abington Township, Lackawanna County. Facebook photos

In the first photo, the cat does have the tawny color of a mountain lion but lacks the long tail. In the second photo, the black spots on the belly and legs identify the feline as a bobcat. Both were taken in South Abington Township, Lackawanna County.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_BC1.jpgIn the first photo, the cat does have the tawny color of a mountain lion but lacks the long tail. In the second photo, the black spots on the belly and legs identify the feline as a bobcat. Both were taken in South Abington Township, Lackawanna County. Facebook photos

By Tom Venesky

[email protected]

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky