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D.C. mountain lion sighting? Not likely, says expert

October 3, 2013

Photo by John Ellsberry

When asked this morning by City Paper, John Lutz (pictured), a retired Baltimore City transportation department official who now lives in the mountains of West Virginia and since 1983 has been running the Eastern Puma Research Network (EPRN), said he hadn’t heard about the rumors of a mountain lion being sighted in Southeast Washington, D.C., yesterday, as reported by the Washington Post this morning. But he doubts the rumor.

“It doesn’t seem logical,” says Lutz, unless the big cat “wandered up from Fort Washington” in nearby Prince George’s County or Zekiah Swamp in Charles County, where he suspects “there are a couple of cats.” Cougars “have got to have enough territory,” he explains, so “it would be unusual for a cougar to be in [the southeast] area” of D.C., adding that “it could have been a bobcat wandering around.” Northwest D.C., however, is another story – Lutz says he “wouldn’t discount” reported sightings there because “there is a lot of forest” in Rock Creek Park and along the Potomac River.

Lutz’ expertise on such sightings has been mounting for decades, as he and like-minded investigators involved with EPRN continue to insist, despite denials among wildlife officials, that native populations of wild Eastern pumas still survive along the East Coast. Their insistence is based on decades of collecting evidence that such sightings are real, not imagined – though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the species extinct in 2011, and assert that any confirmed sightings would be of animals released from captivity.

Lutz, meanwhile, is always good for a story. Asked what he’s been up to recently – City Paper hadn’t been in touch with him since a 2005 interview – he says, “I’m still alive. Right now I have a problem with a skunk digging up my yard. I kept swatting him in the face with a broom, but that hasn’t seemed to dissuade him. You can do that, as long as you always keep in front of him, and don’t get yourself behind him.”