Wild Illinois and the Facebook poster who cried ‘wolf’ — or ‘cougar’
Child-like pranks that morph quickly into unsubstantiated, sordid and even fearful rumors about mountain lions making their way into locations they haven’t been in over 100 years tend to bring my blood to its boiling point.
Let me be clear. Though I’ve personally never sighted any, and conclude that there isn’t a large established population, I believe that mountain lions have made their way back into Illinois. I also believe there have been legitimate sightings that remain unconfirmed by the DNR. After all, the first article I ever wrote for Illinois Outdoor News was about cougars making their way back into the Prairie State.
That said, I don’t think that every sighting is in fact a real, live cougar. However, most accounts are innocent in that the observer truly believes that what they saw was one of these elusive cats.
But, I hold a different opinion entirely for those careless individuals who find it amusing to intentionally falsify claims of mountain lion sightings, bearing no concern for the repercussions from their actions.
About 6 weeks ago, my dad stopped by and told me a story that he’d heard from my uncle. And, yes … that’s what happens. First, it’s an innocent, or not-so-innocent prank. Before you can say “bull” the tall tale has transformed itself into truth.
Supposedly, there had been an article written up in a local paper about a cougar that had been spotted about 25 minutes from where I live. Even more interesting, there were photos printed that offered “proof.” Always the skeptic who has a disdain for drama, the first thing I did while my dad was still sitting at my kitchen table was to reach out to Steve Beltran, a CPO in Ogle County. Beltran had heard nothing about the cougar. He asked me to see if I could locate this article.
After much investigating and many phone calls, I finally found the origin of the rumor. There were indeed pictures, but no newspaper article. Rather, a story began on social media in which an individual posted several photos of a mountain lion in a tree and captioned them, “Little feller was just hanging around.” While the photos themselves were legitimate, the location was not. After being paid a visit by Beltran, and admitting where he’d really obtained the photos from, the individual removed the post. The photos were reposted on the DNR Conservation Police Facebook page warning the public of the problems that follow fake claims of cougar sightings.
I believe that ignorance is not bliss, but I’m not sure you can reason with it either.