As the opening words of a recent article in the Roanoke Times stated, “Someone is trying to instill fear about mountain lions on the loose in Virginia, though the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries says it’s fake news.”
If you live in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia, chances are you’ve seen something going around social media in recent weeks about mountain lions on the loose in Virginia’s western counties.
Talk of mountain lions in the Commonwealth is not new, however, the most recent wave of mountain lion talk has come in the form of an elaborate hoax.
A flier dated September 18, 2017, began appearing around the state on what appeared to be Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) letterhead. The flier warned, “Recently there have been several credible reported sightings, as well as wildlife camera footage of a North American mountain lion (cougar) in the Slate Lick Area of Fulks Run. Mountain Lions are no longer native to Virginia, if it’s presence is confirmed, it is possibly due to a weather related variation in its seasonal migration route… while attacks on humans are relatively rare, mountain lions can be extremely dangerous if they feel threatened…”
DGIF officials were quick to deny the flyer, stating that it was not true.
“This is not true! We have no reports of them in Virginia…” stated a Facebook post from the state wildlife agency.
On the heels of the flyers being handed out, a second wave of mountain lion sightings is now being reported on social media. This time reportedly in Wythe County, Virginia, in the state’s Southwestern region. According to the Facebook post, a mountain lion carrying a dog away in the community of Speedwell, approximately ten miles south of Wytheville.
DGIF has not yet officially addressed the most recent reported sighting, either confirming or denying the validity of the post.
In March of 2016, however, the state’s Game & Inland Fisheries department published an article stating, “More and more images appear as photo attachments to emails claiming to have been taken in Virginia. With some detective work they are often debunked as photos from a western state that are now making the internet circuit, maybe even more than once. While these reports are popular and receive a lot of ‘shares’ on social media, no big cats have been found to exist here in Virginia.”
“On average, DGIF has received approximately 3–4 sightings of large cats a month in recent years. To date, none of these reports have been substantiated by a photo, carcass or track. When we reviewed these reports, as many as 25% are of a large black cat. There is no reported melanistic phase of cougars or pumas in the literature. Those few instances where the information appears credible, investigation by staff has always confirmed the animal to be a bobcat, black bear, domestic cat or dog,” states the department.
The Commonwealth of Virginia maintains that while mountain lions appear to be colonizing some of their former range by expanding eastward—most recently lone cats have been documented in Tennessee—the NGS and DGIF do not believe that mountain lions currently exist in the Commonwealth.
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