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October 16, 2023

Report of possible mountain lion near Allentown turns out to be feral house cat, officials say

Authorities received pictures of a large cat in Lower Macungie Township on Sunday. Eastern cougars were hunted to extinction in Pennsylvania, but captive animals sometimes get free

Wildlife Cats
Mountain Lion Pennsylvania Pixabay/

Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Game Commission are investigating a report of a mountain lion spotted in Lower Macungie Township. The species, also called the eastern cougar, was hunted to extinction in Pennsylvania. But officials say mountain lions in captivity sometimes escape or are released. The photo above is a stock image.

Update (7:07 p.m.): Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Game Commission have determined an animal spotted in Lower Macungie Township on Sunday was a feral house cat, not a mountain lion. 

A game commission official told The Morning Call in Allentown that wildlife officials used life-sized cutouts of a house cat, a bobcat and a mountain to recreate the photos that were submitted to police by the person who originally reported seeing the a large. 

“Based on the photos taken using the cutout in comparison to the original photo, it appears that the animal in question was a large feral house cat,” said Tom Keller, furbearer biologist for the game commission. 

See the original story below.

Pennsylvania State Police have advised residents in Lower Macungie Township that a large feline — possibly a mountain lion — was spotted Sunday morning in a field in the Lehigh County community.

Pictures given to state police show the cat in the area of Village Round, behind Hanover Drive, a state trooper from Troop M Fogelsville shared on X, formerly Twitter. Police did not share the images, but said they have been in contact with the Pennsylvania Game Commission for assistance. 

MORE: New Pa. license plate features state amphibian, the eastern hellbender

Lower Macungie is just outside of Allentown, about 60 miles north from Philadelphia. 

Bobcats are the only surviving wild cat species native to Pennsylvania, but it's possible for large cats held in captivity to get loose or be released by their owners.

The eastern cougar, a species of mountain lion, formerly roamed Pennsylvania but gradually was hunted to extinction after European settlement. The species hasn't been documented in Pennsylvania since the late 1960s. Periodically, people report sightings of large cats that they believe to be mountain lions.

In an August interview with WTAJ in Altoona, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Thomas Keller addressed persistent claims that mountain lions may still be in the state.

"To be able to say 'Do we have mountain lions in Pennsylvania?' The answer to that can be some of these other facets or things like 'Do we have folks that have mountain lions in captivity,' which we certainly do in Pennsylvania," Keller said. "‘Do we have folks that had mountain lions in captivity and released them into the wild? ... that may be where you get some sightings and that has occurred in the past."

Keller recalled a 2011 case in which a mountain lion was released from captivity in South Dakota and traveled all the way to Connecticut before it was fatally struck by a car.

When the game commission gets reports of mountain lions, game wardens search for tracks and droppings that can help determine the species and where a reported animal might be found.

In many cases, reports of large cats turn out to be false alarms. Pictures sometimes distort the size of the animals that people see, and they occasionally turn out to be little more than house cats. Rumors of a black panther reported in South Jersey earlier this year ended up being someone's pet dog. Black panthers aren't found in the United States.

There has been discussion among some biologists of reintroducing mountain lions in Pennsylvania and other states as a way to control growing deer populations. Mountain lions are not commonly known to attack people unless they feel threatened, as happened in Utah last year when a man was stalked by an angry mother of cubs he encountered along a trail.

Pennsylvania State Police have advised people to stay away from the large cat reported in Lower Macungie if they happen to spot it. People who see the animal can call the game commission at (610) 926-3136 or state police in Fogelsville at (610) 395-1438.