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October 17, 2016

Is there a mountain lion roaming the woods of South Jersey? Fish and Wildlife says no.

Animals Cats
South Jersey Mountain Lion? Source/Winslow Township police

Is a mountain lion wandering through South Jersey? Winslow Township police submitted this photograph to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife after receiving multiple reports of a large cat sighting. Yet, police remain doubtful that the cat is a mountain lion, a species that has not been present in New Jersey in more than 100 years.

Update, 5 p.m.: The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife "formally concluded" the animal depicted in the photograph and video is a house cat, spokesman Lawrence Hajna said late Monday afternoon. The original story follows.

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A photograph captured by a trail camera in Camden County appears to show a large feline roaming.

But is it a mountain lion, a species once indigenous to South Jersey but missing in these parts for more than 100 years, or is it a large house cat?

Winslow Township police believe the latter is just as likely.

"You could ask 10 people and you're going to be 50-50, looking at the scale, of whether it's actually a house cat that's close to the camera," Lt. Christopher Dubler said. 

Regardless, police are taking precaution.

Police contacted the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife after receiving multiple reports of possible mountain lion sightings. They submitted both a photograph and a grainy video of a cat walking through a garden.

Yet, Lawrence Hajna, press secretary for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said he did not believe the Division of Fish and Wildlife was investigating the matter. But he said the photo and video are far from conclusive.

"This could be a housecat walking across a log or in front of that building," Hajna wrote in an email. "There's nothing in either one to provide perspective as to the size of the animal and, the fact is, mountain lions have been extirpated from New Jersey for more than a century. Also, the tail appears to be a bit short for a mountain lion, but clearly longer than a bobcat's."

The cat sightings came near the township's Hammonton border. There have been no reports of contact between large cats and people.

Police said they do not believe the cats are a threat to people, noting large cats are known to avoid human contact. But they encourage residents to use sound judgment and take reasonable precautions with their children and pets.

Anyone who spots a large cat is asked to contact Animal Control at 609-567-0700, ext. 1500.

Police received similar reports of large cat sightings six or seven years ago, Dubler said. They went unconfirmed.