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Mountain Lion paw print in Lake George

Courtesy of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

This paw print from a mountain lion was photographed in Lake George last winter after an eyewitness sighting of the animal. The live mountain lion was observed by Cindy Eggleston in the back of her home in the town of Lake George on Dec. 16. The tracks in the snow were followed by Eggleston's husband, a retired DEC officer, and were photographed on Dec. 17. Several hairs were also recovered.

if I had a nickel for every person I have talked to during my years here at the paper who swore they saw a mountain lion, aka panther, my wallet would be considerably fatter than it is now.

While I know many people who are insistent they have seen one of the big cats that the DEC says have been extinct from the Adirondacks for over a century, the reality is what they saw was really a bobcat, lynx, coyote or any of the other elusive predators that we do have here in our region.

That's not to say that there hasn't been a panther or two from the Upper Midwest or Canada cross the Adirondacks over the years, because that sort of wandering cat scenario took place around here in December 2010.

That cat, though, was killed a few months later by a car in Connecticut. Years earlier, one that had been bred in captivity was found dead in Saratoga County. 

But here's the thing about mountain lions, that would make it evident if there was a population of them around here: They have to eat, a lot. And they kill in very particular ways, favoring deer and leaving a lot of scat around.

So if there were as many panthers around here as many think there are, there would be plenty of evidence, not to mention actual, verifiable local trail cam photos or video, the occasional cat or young offspring hit by a car or winding up in a trap.

Bobcats, which get surprisingly big in our parts, are the cats people typically mistake for mountain lions. I saw one cross Route 149 in South Granville a couple of weeks ago that was as tall as an adult golden retriever.

Bobcats generally have short tails, while mountain lions have long tails.

Whether mountain lions exist in our local woods wound up in the news this week when the town of Halfmoon warned residents through social media of a "mountain lion" being spotted in town.

It's great that the town was proactive in warning residents of a possible threat. It's not great that the town social media person tossed out the phrase "mountain lion" with little to no actual evidence that such a predator was about.

Sadly, there are probably many moms in the Halfmoon area who are keeping their kids inside on a beautiful day today because of this uproar.

Who knows, maybe there is a wayward big cat wandering the suburbs of southern Saratoga County. It's not impossible. But the reality of the situation is that we should be more worried of threats from ticks and cellphone-using drivers than an animal that has been extinct from New York since the 1800s.

-- Don Lehman

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reporter - crimes & courts, public safety and Warren County government

Don Lehman covers crime and Warren County government for The Post-Star. His work can be found on Twitter @PS_CrimeCourts and on poststar.com/app/blogs.

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