Poestenkill big cat story is irresponsible reporting

June 17, 2017

Another typical story from local news where a resident is reporting a strange animal and the reporter dramatically jumps on the story, taking the assumption of the witness as the headline. In all probability, it?s just a dog!

In upstate New York, outside Albany, a woman went to the news with a trail cam photo of what she has assumed is a mountain lion. It is black. There is no other corroborating evidence, such as tracks or other sightings. The picture was taken during the day and the animal was walking along her driveway. This is not typical behavior of a wild animal, but it?s not the only problem with this sensational explanation. There is a whole list of why this story should not have been posted in this manner at all.

Many, many problems with this story:

  • There are no comparison photos for size, shape, and distance. Therefore, we can not judge those characteristics from this photo alone. It could very well be a house cat or big dog (like a labrador retriever ? one named ?Duke? was posted as missing but since found in the area).
  • Lack of detail. To assume the most obvious, it would be either a cat or dog, but we can not tell with any degree of certainty. There is no justification to conclude a very implausible subject ? big cat/cougar.
  • It?s black. There have not been authenticated black mountain lions EVER. Re-read that again because even though this is well established, it?s CONSTANTLY trotted out as an explanation. A mountain lion/cougar (same species) would not be implausible in this area (although a surprising anomaly), the only black cats are jaguars and leopards, neither of which are plausible. Pumas are not melanistic (all black). The only other explanation for large black cats (without invoking supernatural elements of teleportation) are escaped exotic pets. This is unlikely, but not impossible, since none are associated with this incident. If we consider the odds, it would be practically impossible for this woman to have captured a black mountain lion in daylight in New York.
  • No tracks, traces or sightings. The woman notes missing cats and chickens in the vicinity. These likely have no relation to the animal in the video. Cats and chickens go missing ALL the time. No big cat needed to explain those facts.
  • The news report focused on playing up the fear angle of the residents. While it?s understandable that if they believe it?s a real mountain lion, they would be fearful, there is NO reason to assume that because it has not been established by any means that the animal in the video is a mountain lion and not just a big domestic dog.

Coming up on the next episode of the official Doubtful News podcast 15 Credibility Street, we discuss more of these incidents where witnesses jump to unreasonable conclusions. Check out Episode 19 when it drops on Sunday.

The bottom line is, even though people fall into the trap of assuming a sensational explanation that may relate to rumor, legend, another part of the world, or a TV show, it does not mean that their assumption is by any means true. The local news does a serious disservice to the viewers by hyping the idea that a dangerous animal is lurking when they did no basic investigation of the claim whatsoever.

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