December 11, 2008

MDC Quickly Dispels Northeast Missouri Mountain Lion E-mail Hoax

It is difficult to find someone in Scotland County who hasnt heard stories of alleged mountain lion sightings in the region. While none of these instances have been confirmed, it is easy to see why a recent e-mail hoax quickly spread through the community regarding purported trail-camera images of a trio of the big cats reportedly taken in Knox County.

But according to the Missouri Department of Conservation and numerous media outlets across the Midwest, these images were NOT taken in Knox County, or in Missouri for that matter.

This photo was taken sometime within the last year by a couple who live about four miles east of Keystone, SD, in the Black Hills, and just west of the tiny community of Hayward, said Rex Martensen, Field Program Supervisor for MDC. They live right off Highway 40. They placed the trail camera on a recently killed deer near their home. This is apparently an adult female cougar and her two cubs.

Martensen added that Brian Jansen, a graduate student from South Dakota State University believed the adult female was a study animal that recently lost its radio collar. He pointed out that in the photo you can still see a yellow ear tag.

The couple are somewhat protective of cougars, and had submitted the photos to a web site while protesting the South Dakota cougar hunting season, Martensen said. They had also sent these pictures to a nephew.

From there, the images apparently were picked up and quickly distributed across the Internet. Unfortunately during that process, many senders began altering the facts and stories began circulating that the mountain lions had been photographed within a variety of communities such as Buffalo County, WI; Antigo, WI; and others in Wisconsin, Kansas and Nebraska.

This was one that could more easily confuse people, Martensen said of the images. The young ponderosa pines look a lot like red pines of the Midwest, and the grass in the foreground looks like smooth brome common in our area, but also prevalent in the Black Hills. The fact that the adult had a yellow ear tag, right away indicated that it was an animal that someone has handled and someone likely knows this animal. I think we can put this story to rest.

Martensen said the MDC verified the photos origin with John Kanta, biologist of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, who knows the couple who took the pictures and confirmed their story.

Everyone needs to be cautious about the e-mail information highway, Martensen said. Folks need to keep in mind that if a mountain lion shows up in Missouri the MDC is always first to report the facts and always through major media outlets. MDC is committed to addressing all inquiries and claims of mountain lion presence in the state. We have a response team of trained professionals that investigate and provide information to the public and media.

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