Speculation about whether cougars roam the Adirondacks forests has existed for decades.
People have claimed to have seen them, including at least one friend of mine. However, so far I have never seen evidence that they have a population in this region.
There was the case of the cougar spotted by a retired state Department of Environmental Conservation employee's wife in Lake George in Dec. 2010. Hair samples from that animal were collected and tests proved that they were from a cougar. The animal was later killed on a highway in Connecticut. That cougar was supposedly just passing through and from the Midwest, and not part of a breeding population here, according to the DEC.
This photo was taken by a trail camera on private property in southern Marquette County in Michigan on June 1. Recently, people have been circulating the image on Facebook after a false rumor stated that it was taken in Colton.
(Photo courtesy of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy)
So when I logged onto Facebook last Friday and saw what was supposedly a photo of a mountain lion in Colton, I was curious. First of all, I was surprised. Then I became skeptical.
"This photo was taken with a trail cam on east hill rd. So. Colton n.y. anyone believe there here now????" read a caption below the photograph of the cougar.
A few minutes later, I searched Google for trail camera photos of cougars. Within the search results, I found the same photo on a website from Michigan. After some more Internet research and a phone call, I tracked the photograph back to the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy in Bath, Mich., which is near Lansing.
Dennis Fijalkowski, Executive Director of the Conservancy, told me that the photograph was taken by a trail camera on private property in southern Marquette County in Michigan on June 1.
A press release from this summer on the photograph said the Conservancy was publicizing "the photograph because it may be the best, clearest photograph of a wild Michigan cougar ever taken."
The photograph's location was verified as real by Michael Zuidema, a retired Michigan state Department of Natural Resources forester, according to the Conservancy. The image was taken "on a well-worn wildlife trail atop a wooded ridge. The camera has also photographed wolves, coyotes, fishers and numerous other species at the same site over a four year period."
So no, that photograph was not taken in South Colton as John Regan of Syracuse said on his Facebook page. Unfortunately, more than 2,000 people shared this photograph from Regan's page alone, many apparently believing the caption was accurate. Hundreds or thousands more shared it off other Facebook pages, with many people believing it was real.
I tried contacting John Regan, but he didn't respond.
What did happen as a result of the photo being shared is that many people began to share their alleged sightings of cougars in the Adirondacks.
While talking to Finjalkowski, I asked him if he thought that there were cougars in New York or the Northeast. He believes there is a population in the Adirondacks, although he didn't have proof of this fact and has never done research here. But he did have suggestions for how just about anyone can help determine if cougars are here. Finjalkowski credited "citizen science" for helping prove that cougars were in Michigan. The prime example of that was the trail camera photo captured by a private landowner. He said the same could be done in New York.
He recommended that people set up trail cameras on their properties, especially where deer are present.
"You will be shocked because you will eventually get pictures of cougars, if enough trail cams are put up on deer runs," he said. "They often run the same trails as the deer do. The deer is their principle prey."
Finjalkowski said that deer make up 80 to 90 percent of cougars' diets.
"An adult cougar has got to kill a deer every 10 to 14 days," he said. "So they kill anywhere from 30 to 50 deer (a year), depending on how big they are."
Once preliminary evidence is gathered, scientists can follow up using other methods. One thing that Conservancy did was to gather scat samples. A DNA analysis of the scat determined that the positive cougar samples came from eight individual cougars.
The Conservancy also interviewed individuals, gathered more photographs and looked for cougar tracks.
After enough information was gathered, Finjalkowski said the Conservancy was able to prove there are mountain lions in the Upper and Lower Pennisula regions of Michigan, something he said that Michigan's Department of Natural Resources had long disputed until they were presented with overwhelming evidence.
"This is a remnant population that survived the persecution, the bounty system and persecution by everyone, because they retreated to roadless areas and protected area, and they did the same thing in the Appalachians," Fijalkowski said.
A case that mountain lions exist in the Adirondacks has yet to be compiled, even though many people have speculated that they are here. If you've got proof of a mountain lion passing through the Adirondacks, in the form of a sighting, photograph or anything else, I'd be interested in hearing about that, or seeing the photo, and looking into it further. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 891-2600 ext. 28.