BLACK BROOK - The North Country was abuzz with rumors Wednesday morning that a motorist in Black Brook had struck and killed a large mountain lion.
Turns out, those rumors were circulating in the Buffalo area, too - not to mention northern Ohio and rural Pennsylvania.
As early as 6 a.m. Wednesday, Saranac Lake area radio station WNBZ began receiving reports that a 190 pound mountain lion was killed in the Clinton County town of Black Brook by a passing motorist.
The proof? A cell phone picture message that showed a large cat in the bed of a pickup truck. Recipients of the message said officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed the incident.
Those same reports were called into Buffalo's News Channel 4 late last year. Reporters there spoke with DEC Region 9 Captain David Bennett.
"It's always a friend of a friend saw it or a cousin of mine got this from a buddy of his and so on," he said. "But there was no lion. There's no proof at all, other than those in captivity."
Despite the DEC's insistence that there's no proof of mountain lions in New York, residents counter that they've seen them. Regional Wildlife Manager Mark Kandel says there's no conspiracy theory on the DEC's part.
"Everybody would know if we did," he said. "We can't keep that a secret. A lot of people think we can keep it a secret, but that would be impossible."
Dave Winchell is public affairs director for DEC Region 5. He says this latest hoax is just another in a series of inaccurate reports about mountain lions in New York.
"We've received a number of phone calls on reports of a mountain lion killed in Black Brook," Winchell said. "But these reports are completely false. This hoax started in Region 9, in Buffalo, last December and has moved across the state and has finally arrived here."
Winchell says each hoax presents the same set of inconsistencies.
"If you look at the message, one of the things that's really interesting, no matter what locale they claim the accident occurred in, they say it was on Savage Road," he said. "And most of these locales don't even have a Savage Road."
According to Winchell, the eastern cougar disappeared from New York in the late 1800s and purported sightings generally lack any hard evidence.