Does the increased number of cougar sightings mean there is more roaming in Michigan?

Cougar sightings are on the rise in Michigan.

Confirmed sightings of the animal, also known as the puma or mountain lion, hit double digits for the first time in 2019, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources recorded more sightings in the three last years than in the previous 10 years.

Ten sightings of the animal, also known as the puma or mountain lion, were confirmed by the agency this year, all in the Upper Peninsula, up from a peak of 15 in 2020.

Male cougars are known to travel great distances looking for places to establish new breeding grounds with available females, said John Pepin, deputy public information officer at DNR, and it’s almost always males that are recorded in confirmed sightings. In 2011, a cougar traveled a record 2,100 miles from South Dakota to Connecticut.

The most recent observation in Michigan, confirmed by the agency in October, was on September 16, when a photo was taken of a cougar in southern Dickinson County.

It was about 50 miles from where a July 20 video was captured in Baraga County, which itself was about 10 miles from where a photo had been taken the day before in the Marquette County.

The MRN confirms the observations based on videos, photographs or visible traces, two cases in the UP having been the result of poached cougar carcasses.

But an increase in sightings doesn’t necessarily mean more animals are claiming Michigan as their home.

The large increase in confirmed reports may be due to the recent popularity of “trail” or “game” cameras, according to Pepin, who added that hunters and other enthusiasts often have multiple cameras in different locations. These are relatively new devices that trigger when there is movement in the frame, and are attached to trees and left there.

The state agency doesn’t know how many sightings in recent years were unique, according to Pepin, but assumes multiple reports may involve the same animal or animals based on some studies as well as close geographic locations. of some observations.

The MNR also cannot estimate how many cougars may be in Michigan at any given time, but presumes this is a very small number based on the relatively small number of verified reports. No evidence has been found of a breeding population in Michigan, said Pepin

When a 2018 DNR surveillance camera captured a photo of a cougar in Gogebic County, Pepin added, “this was the first time the department had caught a cougar in more than 3 million images of game camera collected since 2009 “.

Cougars have been wiped out from about two-thirds of their historic range. The species, which have the the largest relative hind legs of all members of the cat family and can jump up to 18 feet from the ground, was once the most common land animal in the Western Hemisphere, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service

At one point, the animal was wandering the 48 contiguous states in the United States, according to The Cougar Fund, a Wyoming-based nonprofit that educates people and advocates for the protection of these animals.

Today, according to the Cougar Fund, viable breeding populations can be found in only 16 states after centuries of attempts to exterminate them that began during European colonization of North America.

Those states include South Dakota, Wyoming, and northwestern Nebraska, where Pepin said genetic testing showed some of the cougars found in Michigan were likely from. The other states include Washington, California, North Dakota, and Texas.

Even though the animal was once native to the state, Michigan residents are now very unlikely to encounter one in the wild, according to the DNR, and they also rarely attack those they cross paths with.

The animals were trapped and driven out of the state around the turn of the 20th century, Pepin said, and are now listed as an endangered species and protected by state law.

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