There’s A Cougar In Them Thar Hills

Originally published at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

There are no cougars in Wayne County, W.Va. By official accounts, there are no cougars anywhere in wild, wonderful West Virginia. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2011 that the eastern cougar is no longer endangered because it is extinct.

But for a few days last month, a Prichard, W.Va., man named J.R. Hundley deceived a whole bunch of gullible people on Facebook into thinking he had seen one near his house. “I think he killed my [pit bull]! Something tore him up pretty bad,” Hundley wrote Dec. 16.

When asked by Facebook readers, Hundley divulged phony details about the origins of the picture. He implied that he took the photo on “my driveway up the hill to my house” on Lower Gragston Creek Road. When one reader voiced concern about a free-roaming mountain lion killing pets and livestock, Hundley even offered this reassurance about the one he never actually saw: “I was gone, came home and found him. He wasn’t mean at all!”

Nearly 1,600 people shared his warning about a puma on the prowl in the hills, and another 600 liked it. You could tell from the comments that locals wanted to believe it was true, if only to justify their unfounded fears that mountain lions are in the area. Some people spread rumors of their own.

“We saw one cross the road in Prichard a few years ago in front of us, but it was black,” Carrie Ann Bragg wrote. Kathy Baker Rice shared this tale: “I saw one on Bear Creek a few years ago, just about three miles from Buchanan, Ky., which is across the Big Sandy River from Prichard. Huge.”

Cara Nelson-Hall suggested that the mountain lion Hundley imagined was not alone. “They’re on Davis branch. We hear them,” she said. And Jim Reed cried conspiracy by state game officials. “I bet DNR released him out there, lol,” he said half-jokingly. “I would call them and ask them if they did and tell them to pay [you] for your pit bull.”

Appalachian Magazine bought into Hundley’s story, touting it and other alleged sightings of mountain lions in Appalachia under the headline “Mountain Lion Sighted in West Virginia.” Several readers told their own cougar tales in the comments of the magazine’s Facebook page and ridiculed the doubters.

“Anyone that thinks there are no panthers in West Virginia is a fool,” Opal Marcum said. “They are in Wayne County, Mingo County and Logan County for sure. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t see you.”

But discerning readers quickly pegged Hundley as a hoaxer. “Also look out for the notorious Sasquatch,” Travis Boone mocked. “He’s around too!!”

Some critics assumed that the picture was real and that Hundley edited a mountain lion into it. But as it turns out, the entire photo is real (along with a second one like it). Hundley just didn’t take it.

The photos were published on three Facebook pages, Hunting Trophy Trips, Oregon Outdoor Hunters and Oregon Outdoor Council. Oregon State University forestry student Hayden England saw the cougar March 10 while working in the field near Vida, Ore., and the McKenzie River.
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