On a warm summer day a man is walking through a wooded suburban neighborhood north of Juneau. He catches a glimpse of a big yellow animal with a long tail, running across the road. He reports a possible cougar sighting to Fish and Game, but on further investigation, it turns out to be a neighborhood dog.
Derek Broman is a carnivore biologist in Oregon and frequently investigates cougar reports in a state that actually has cougars. He offered some advice on what to do if you see an unusual animal. A key point is judging the animal's real size.
Broman said scale can be confusing, and people mistake housecats for mountain lions. People have reported black panthers, but there has never been a melanistic cougar documented in Oregon, he said. "You need an indicator of scale," he said. "You see something walking through the grass in a field, go out and see how tall the grass is. You might think it's two feet tall and it's three inches tall.
"Even hunters do it - they think a bear is huge and come up on it and it's a yearling. If something ran across the road, stop and look at how tall the vegetation is beside the road. Is that leaf there the size of your hand or bigger than your head?"
Broman said dogs are often the cause of false alarms. Color is often the first thing people note, and that can be a dog, a deer or even a housecat.