The Eastern cougar, or mountain lion, is listed as an endangered species in New York. This animal was historically present in the state, but has been absent since the late 1800s. There are a few kept in captivity under a special permit, and likely illegally as well. In at least two cases in past years, captive cougars did make it to the wild. Neither cougar survived for long. Officially, cougars are considered extirpated from the state; however, sightings of animals believed to be cougars are commonly reported to DEC wildlife offices.
To date, no hard evidence has been produced that would prove the existence of cougars living and reproducing in the wild in New York . . . no tracks, scat, dead cougars, photos, videos, or audio tapes. Contrast that with areas with known cougar populations, where sign is relatively easy to find. For instance, there is an estimated population of 200 cougars in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In 2006, South Dakota officials documented 56 cougar carcasses, and 67 carcasses in 2007. No wild cougar carcasses have been documented in New York since 1894. If you believe that you have seen a cougar, please check for tracks or other signs that have been left by the animal. If possible, photograph the animal. Photographs of tracks are also useful; please include an object of known size such as a quarter next to the track. Placing a can or bucket over the best tracks may help preserve them until they can be examined by DEC wildlife staff.
Wildlife staff will only investigate reports where physical evidence is likely or known to exist, or when a captive animal has been reported to have escaped.
Staff have been responding to forwarded e-mail chains regarding rumors about cougars. Examples of the photographs included are as follows:
Photo of a cougar following a deer. The origin of this photo not known (in at least one instance it was credited to US Forest Service). Note: The deer in this picture is a western species, not a white-tail.
Photo of a man posing with a cougar in a garage (This animal was shot in the State of Washington in December 2002)
Photo of a cougar peering through a glass door and multiple photos of a cougar taken through a glass door (These were taken in Lander, Wyoming).
Photo of a man with a dead cougar in a workshop (This cat was hit by a pickup truck between Williams and Valle, Arizona in late 2007).
Photo of a cougar on the porch of a Wyoming house. (Photo courtesy of Wyoming Game and Fish Department)
Photo of a cougar from a camp site in northwestern Wyoming.
All of the above photos have claimed to have originated some where in New York State, but they have not. Please do not forward them as real.
A popular tale, but not true . . .
Rumors have been circulating for the past few years that the DEC has released cougars to control deer populations. Some of these rumors claim that Officer 'Jones' participated in the release, or that people have actually seen cougars with ear tags or neck collars, so they must have been released by the State. This is not true. The DEC has never released cougars, despite what you may hear to the contrary.
For more information on cougars
For more information on cougars you can follow the link in the left-hand column at the top of this page to read the Cougar Fact Sheet. You can also read the recent Conservationist article about cougars in New York. The right-hand column at the top of the page has a link to the Cougar Network, an independent organization which tracks reliable cougar sightings outside their established range.
Recently, a cougar was hit by a car and killed in Connecticut. There was physical evidence that this animal had moved through the upper Midwest and New York State from an established population in South Dakota. While evidence indicates this animal passed through the state, there is no evidence that would prove the existence of cougars living and reproducing in the wild in New York. For more on the cougar killed in Connecticut, read Special Reports and News for Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources from August 2011.
More about Eastern Cougar:
- Eastern Cougar Fact Sheet - Species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs for the Eastern Cougar.