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Geographical Index > United States > Oklahoma > McCurtain County > Article # 370

Media Article # 370


Sunday, March 21, 2004

State has share of myths

By Ed Godfrey
The Oklahoman


A photograph being circulated on the Internet of a 140-pound blue catfish being caught from Lake Texoma is a hoax.

The photograph is real, but it wasn't taken at Lake Texoma. The monster cat was caught in Italy.

According to snopes.com, a Web site devoted to debunking such myths, the photograph originated on a French Web site devoted to catfish angling.

And it's not a blue catfish. It's called a Wels catfish and it was caught on a live eel.

Such Internet hoaxes are nothing new in the hunting and fishing world. Last year, a similar kind of photo was circulated of a man holding a mountain lion.

"I saw the picture two or three times and it was a different story each time," said Dennis Maxwell, assistant chief of law enforcement for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

It seems a deer hunter had stumbled on this same big cat in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Alabama, Montana, Texas, Wyoming and Kansas, according to the Internet.

The mountain lion was really taken near Seattle and the photograph appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of Fair Chase magazine, a Boone and Crockett Club publication.

Oklahoma also has its share of myths or "rural legends." For decades, state game wardens have been refuting stories of mountain lion stockings, black panthers and a Bigfoot in the Kiamichi Mountains.

For at least two decades, a story has persisted that the state wildlife department stocks mountain lions in Oklahoma to control the deer population.

State wildlife officials fielded questions from a local television station about it as recently as last month.

The television station was e-mailed two mountain lion photos -- one from a guy in Tecumseh and another from a guy in Choctaw -- both claiming the photos were proof that mountain
lions were turned loose near their homes. It turns out the two photos were the same.

The rumor is really a silly one when you think about it. Why would the state wildlife department want mountain lions to kill deer, considering all the money it makes from deer
hunters?

Not to mention the liability the department would incur by stocking such a dangerous animal.

"We hear it every year. We've got landowners that believe that," Maxwell said of the rumor. "We don't do stuff like that. We don't have access to mountain lions."

Sightings of the storied "black panther" or black mountain lion are also common in the state.

People swear up and down that they have seen black panthers or cougars, but state wildlife officials say there is no proof such an animal exists.

"We don't know what they are seeing, but we have never had anybody catch one or shoot one or take pictures of one," Maxwell said.

Mountain lions do reside in all parts of Oklahoma, mostly in the Panhandle and western half of the state, but they are not black, according to the state wildlife department.

Black leopards and jaguars are real, but are different species of cats and not indigneous to the United States. Black leopards are more commonly found in the dense tropical rain
forest of southeast Asia. Jaguars are found in Central and South America.

It is possible for a breeder to have released a once-captive black leopard in the state, but there are no free-ranging black panthers in Oklahoma, state wildlife officials say.

Mike Virgin, a game warden in McCurtain County, has heard many stories of black panther sightings.

"People see more black ones than they see brown ones, and there is simply no such cat," Virgin said.

Virgin has been a game warden for 26 years, and if black panthers do exist in Oklahoma, he figures he would have seen one by now. The same goes for Bigfoot.

Every year, there are reported Bigfoot sightings in the mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, Virgin said.

A few people actually believe such a creature exists and will get angry if you suggest otherwise, the game warden said.

But Virgin said he thinks most Bigfoot sightings are the work of pranksters.

"There is no evidence of a Bigfoot," he said. "There never has been. There never will be."

However, it is a story that will never die. Just like the local Indian legend about the leprechaun- like "little people" who live in the woods, Virgin said.

"I haven't seen them, either," he said.


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