They’re panicking in PA and screaming in Scranton as reports and photos are coming in of what appears to be a big cat roaming through neighborhoods more used to seeing kittens than cougars – yes, this feline looks large enough to be a mountain lion or at least a big bobcat. One wildlife official even suggested it could be a mutant. Are the Nittany Lions playing at home this weekend? If you’re in northeastern Pennsylvania, bring in the pets and the kids (not in that order) and read on.
"When I first saw it, I was like, 'Wait, is that a mountain lion? No, they don't live around here.' Then I saw and was like, 'It could be a bobcat, possibly mountain lion.' "
Nick Dodge made that comment after looking at footage from his home surveillance camera which showed a large cat outside his chain-link fence on August 25th. He sent the photos to local station WNEP which posted them on Facebook. While no other neighbors or residents of Clarks Summit, a suburb of Scranton, reported seeing the cat, many were taking up arms (or at least baseball bats) and debating whether it was indeed a mountain lion – something that has not officially been seen in Pennsylvania for over 100 years – or a bobcat, which have been known to live in the area and hunt in a nearby swamp.
While Clarks Summit is a long way from State College, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, actual Nittany lions or Eastern cougars or eastern pumas (Puma concolor couguar) were common in the area until the late 1800s. They’re now officially extinct and any sightings are attributed to bobcats, lynxes, exaggeration or possible escaped pet lions. Most school historians agree that the name “Nittany” most likely comes from the mythical tale of Native American princess Nita-Nee who lead her people to the fertile land of what is now central Pennsylvania. It was said that when she was buried, Mount Nittany rose in her honor. If you don’t like that story, another involves an Indian maiden also named Nita-Nee who fell in love with a white man who was chased out of town by her seven brothers and died in Penn's Cave crying out her name.
If you don’t like either one, blame author Henry W. Shoemaker who admitted making them up in 1903. Despite that, another story arose of Penn State baseball player Harrison "Joe" Mason, Class of 1907, who bragged to some Princeton players that a Nittany lion was stronger than a tiger (Princeton mascot). Penn State won and the Nittany Lion became the unofficial mascot until 1942 when it was adopted.
Is the Clarks Summit cat a long-lost Nittany lion? Not likely, according to Dan Taylor, a San Diego-based wildlife biologist and former Philadelphia resident. He told PhillyVoice:
"The coloration and the shape of the head lean toward mountain lion (Felis concolor) but they have a tail that’s almost as long as their body, and this animal clearly is lacking a tail. Also, pretty sure there is color variation in a bobcat’s fur color, so what I’m thinking is a good-sized, tawny colored bobcat. Nothing to see here folks, move along ...”
Move along? Pretty arrogant, aren’t you Dan? Why don’t you come back to PA and say that to the people worried about their poodles becoming cougar chow? If you do, stay away from Nick Dodge’s neighbor, Ann Marie Flora.
"I was out yesterday night and this morning with a baseball bat in case I saw something. Don't know if I'd been brave enough to use it."
Maybe not on a cougar …