Is This a West Virginia Mountain Lion?

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Mountain Lion

Mountain Lion
Was this huge mountain lion killed in West Virginia?. Viral image

Viral images show an unusually large mountain lion (cougar) purportedly killed near Parkersburg, West Virginia (or elsewhere, such as Altoona, Pennsylvania, Cadiz, Kentucky, and other unlikely locations).

Description: Viral images
Circulating since: February 2008
Status: Mislabeled

Email contributed by Tina P., March 3, 2008:

Subject: Massive Mountain Lion (near parkersburg, wv)
This lion was hit between Grantsville and Walker WV.. by a car. Game and Fish had to come and put him down. He charged at the Fish and Game guy in the process. Look at his PAWS!
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Look at the Size of This Paw!

Mountain Lion Paw
A man holds up the paw of a giant mountain lion. Viral image

Analysis: As so often happens with viral images, the preceding photos — which are authentic and date from December 2007 — have attained urban legend status thanks to folks making up stories about them before sharing them with others.

Here's a version that was forwarded to me in May 2009:

Cougar bagged Near Beaumont, Texas
Look at what James Snipe hit with his car on county road 421 north of Beaumont Texas in Jefferson County. The lion was still alive but unable to move, so our neighbor called animal control and they came and put him down. A land owner had seen this one a week before dragging off a 320 lb steer. Our neighbor is an amateur taxidermist and he's going to stuff him.  This one weighed 260 lbs. while most mature male mountain lions weigh 80 to 150 lbs. We had no idea they still roamed around here!

So, was the mountain lion killed in West Virginia or Texas? The answer is neither.

The true facts are these. The cougar in question, estimated at 200 to 220 pounds and over 7 feet in length, was run over when it leaped in front of a pickup truck driven by Arizona resident Marshall Rader on Highway 64 between Williams and Valle, Arizona.

The big cat was still alive but mortally injured when Rader and his wife got out to examine it, so they dialed 911 and waited for someone from the Arizona Department of Public Safety to arrive and put it down. The man posing with the carcass is DPS officer Jason Ellico, who dispatched the animal on the scene and later skinned it as a demonstration for local Boy Scouts.

Someone — presumably Mr. or Mrs. Rader, though we don't know for sure — emailed the pictures to friends, who emailed them to more friends, and on and on until an urban legend was born. Among the first fabrications appended to the photos was the claim that the accident had occurred in a different part of Arizona — between Prescott and Ash Fork, to be exact, roughly 60 miles or so from the true location.

By early March 2008, the story had changed yet again such that the cougar was said to have been killed southeast of Parkersburg, West Virginia between Grantsville and Walker. West Virginia game officials were quick to label that version of the message a hoax, noting that the accident had also been falsely reported to have occurred in Arkansas. As time went on, there were versions claiming the cougar was shot near Altoona, Pennsylvania, Cadiz, Kentucky, and other unlikely locations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has concluded that the eastern cougar (aka eastern puma), a subspecies that once roamed northeastern North America, is now extinct. Nonetheless, there have been occasional unconfirmed reports of cougar sightings in states such as West Virginia in recent years, leading biologists to theorize that a few western cougars may have migrated east.

A series of photos showing a mountain lion creeping around someone's porch in Wyoming met a similar fate as these images, circulating under the pretense of being taken in Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma and elsewhere.

Sources and further reading:

Huge Lion Is Subject of Internet Speculation
Daily Courier (Prescott, AZ), 21 January 2008

Calhoun Mountain Lion Kill Is 'Pure Fiction'
Hur Herald (WV), 26 February 2008

Mountain Lion Exists Only in Hoax
Kentucky New Era, 6 March 2008

West Va. Cougar Kill a Hoax
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9 March 2008

Fake Mountain Lion Email Makes Rounds
WPSD-TV News, 10 March 2008