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It’s NOT a mountain lion, wildlife experts say after video of large cat in D.C. stirs worry

A large domestic cat was spotted on home surveillance video in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15. It was not a mountain lion. (Video: Giulia di Marzo)

Update: Residents thought video might show a mountain lion in Georgetown. It’s a cat named Cookie, vet says.

At first blush, the surveillance video shows what looks like a very large cat. When a Georgetown resident noticed it Sunday on her home security camera, she worried it might be a mountain lion in her yard.

But wildlife experts said the video, which became popular on social media, depicts nothing more than a domestic cat.

Tommy Wells, director of the District’s Department of Energy and Environment, said Monday that city wildlife biologists looked at the video and determined it’s not a mountain lion.

Mountain lions, Wells said, don’t have stripes on their tails, and the proportions of the animal seen on video are “magnified by the camera.”

“We’re confident it’s a common domestic cat,” he said. “The camera appears to have distorted the size of a domestic cat.”

The video took off on social media after Giulia di Marzo, a District lawyer, posted it to a Georgetown neighborhood blog, saying her security camera captured the animal about 4 a.m. Sunday. She wrote, “does not look like a domestic cat … looks a lot like a mountain lion.”

D.C. mountain lion alert generates jokes, but no sign of a giant cat

Living near Rock Creek Park, she said she’s used to seeing deer and the occasional red fox, but hadn’t seen such a large catlike animal. She said she and some neighbors — one of whom has an eight-pound dog — became worried about their pets. Di Marzo has a 13-pound cat named Socrates that sometimes goes outside.

Di Marzo said she showed the video to her parents, who live in Bethesda, Md., and have a 30-pound Maine coon cat. “This was not that,” she said. They, too, thought it might be a mountain lion.

She posted on the neighborhood blog that if the large cat belonged to someone in the neighborhood, she hoped to “rule out that it’s something more dangerous.” Di Marzo said she noticed scratch marks on her fence from the animal.

On Monday, Chris Schindler, vice president of field services at the Humane Rescue Alliance in the District, said animal control officers patrolled the area after receiving reports stemming from the video but “found no signs of a big cat.” In an email, he also said “no other residents reported seeing a mountain lion or similar size animal in the area.” He went on to say that “we have not had any confirmed sightings of mountain lions in the District.”

A National Zoo spokeswoman said the animal doesn’t belong at that facility and that the zoo doesn’t have mountain lions.

So rest easy, Washingtonians.

Di Marzo said Monday afternoon she was “relieved and happy” to learn it was just a cat. She said she still hadn’t heard from anyone who claimed to own the animal.

“We asked if anyone owned a cat that looked like this. That was our main concern,” she said. “We weren’t trying to cause fear or an uproar.”

Wildlife biologists said the eastern cougar was declared extinct in 2011 and taken off the endangered species list in 2018. The closest mountain lion to the nation’s capital might be a Florida panther, officials said.

It isn’t the first time someone in the D.C. region thought a mountain lion was spotted. In 2013, a woman in Southeast Washington thought she saw one, but animal control experts found no signs. They speculated she might have seen a coyote or a deer.

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