Mountain Lions on the East Coast?

Posted on in Todd Talks by Mak Gleckner

Mountain Lions — also known as pumas, cougars, and panthers — are one of the largest wildcat species in North America, a close second behind jaguars, which can grow slightly bigger. No doubt you've heard of them, but most likely you haven't seen many, if any, of these elusive creatures. Although they can grow to weigh more than 220 pounds, they have the ability to run up to 50 miles per hour, jump more than 40 feet, and even climb trees. Their location ranges from northern Canada all the way down into the South American Andes. They mainly inhabit the western half of the United States; however, there is a small population in the southern tip of Florida. There are rumors of mountain lions also living in some eastern states such as Pennsylvania, an assertion that has been up for debate for decades.

Whenever there's an alleged sighting of a mountain lion in Pennsylvania, most people suspect the person has likely seen a bobcat, house cat, or even a deer instead. I have a hard time believing people when they say they think they saw one. However, I know a couple of credible outdoorsmen who say they've seen one, without a doubt, in Pennsylvania. It's hard not to believe someone who has spent countless hours outside when he says he has spotted one. I haven't seen a Cougar in Pennsylvania, but I did see one in Montana when I spent the summer of 2019 there. One thing is certain, when I saw it, there was no doubt in my mind what it was. It jumped out in front of me as I was driving back from fishing in a small trout stream, and I will never forget it!

Pennsylvania is 58 percent wooded, which means that there are 17 million acres of forest within the state. With wild areas such as Quehanna (48,000 acres), and Hammersley (30,000 acres), there are plenty of secluded areas where a mountain lion could hide. Wild areas are large expanses of relatively undisturbed forest that are set aside to protect wildlife. These areas have plenty of deer that could feed large cats, and because of how remote these regions are, people would not be likely to cross paths with a lion hiding within. Mountain lions usually do not make themselves visible unless they want to be seen.

Most people who argue against the presence of mountain lions on the East Coast claim that it's unlikely a lion would travel that far to get here. The lion would likely have come from Nebraska or Wyoming, where their known habitat ends. But young male cougars can travel hundreds of miles searching for food or a mate, so it's not out of the question that it could happen. I don't believe that there is a breeding population of mountain lions in Pennsylvania, but I do believe there have been a few that have passed through the state. I only question why nobody captures trail camera pictures of them or sees their tracks. I believe if even 10 percent of reported sightings were valid, we would probably have a little more evidence. Because of this, I hold myself to the belief that one percent or less of the alleged sightings are real. There was a mountain lion that was hit by a car in Connecticut in 2011, and DNA tests revealed that it came from South Dakota — over 1,500 miles away!

Obviously, it's quite a strange occurrence for any mammal to travel that far, but if there is one case, there definitely could be more. And, as I mentioned before, I know a few people who know what they're talking about when it comes to animals who have said that they've seen one in Pennsylvania — which is hard for me not to believe. There is enough wooded area to keep them secluded as they pass through, and enough deer to feed them. Maybe someday I will be lucky enough to see one for myself so that I can be certain they're here, but for now I must stick to the word of others as my evidence. However, when it comes to most sightings here in Pennsylvania, I'll continue to take them with a grain of salt.