Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cougars in the Upper Penensula

Cougars were native to Michigan, but the state’s last known wild cougar was killed near Newberry in 1906. However, in the last year there have been many confirmed sitings. Several sets of tracks have been verified trail camera photos have been confirmed in the Upper Peninsula. The cougar (Puma concolor), is also known as a puma, mountain lion, mountain cat, or panther. It is a terrestrial mammal usually found in the western U.S. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in every major American habitat type.  It is the second heaviest cat in the Western Hemisphere, after the jaguar. Although large, the cougar is most closely related to smaller felines and is closer genetically to the domestic cat than to true lions.

So where do cougars hang out? The answer is simple - find the whitetail deer. Cougars routinely follow deer and other prey animals. It is an elusive animal and usually can be seen on the edges of tree lines, roadways, railroad tracks, hiking/biking paths, and power line easements where they will wait and stalk prey. Like any animal, cougars will travel the path of least resistance whenever possible, using roadways, trails, railroad tracks, and open easement land to travel distances.

It is interesting to note that, in Michigan, there have been eight sightings near and/or on airports and 15 near and/or on golf courses - perhaps they like the soft grass. There have been 7 Michigan sightings in and/or near gravel pits/quarries. There was at least one sighting in Grand Marais when a cougar sauntered across the road in front of a car east of town. The car stopped to watch the cougar slowly walk across the road. The cougar momentarily stopped, looked at the car, and then continued across the road.

A cougar recently seen in the western U.P.  was wearing a radio collar. Western states are the only ones that have collared cougars for research, so officials assume the Michigan cat came from there.



On June 11, 2011, a mountain lion was killed on the busy Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford, Connecticut. He was hit by a car. The cougar, a young male that weighed 140 pounds, probably came from the Black Hills of South Dakota and had struck out a couple of years ago to establish his own territory. After the cougar was killed, officials were able to reconstruct his wanderings by matching DNA from his tongue with DNA samples taken in Minnesota and in Wisconsin. Because genetic material was used to follow his movements, there was confirmation that he traveled somewhere around 1,600 miles. His epic journey is the longest ever recorded for a mountain lion. The previous record for a male cougar dispersal was 663 miles, while the average dispersal is only about one hundred miles.

Encounters with cougars are rare. But if you live, work or recreate in cougar habitat, there are things you can do to enhance your safety and that of friends and family. Here are a few tips to ensure your safety.

  • Don't approach a cougar. Most cougars want to avoid humans. Give a cougar the time and space to steer clear of you.
  • Don't feed wildlife. Don't leave pet food outside. Both may attract cougars by attracting their natural prey.
  •  Keep pets secure. Roaming pets are easy prey for cougars.
  •  Supervise children, especially outdoors between dusk and dawn. Educate them about cougars and other wildlife they might encounter.
  •  Always hike, backpack, and camp in wild areas with a companion.
  •  Never run past or from a cougar. This may trigger their instinct to chase. Make eye contact. Stand your ground. Pick up small children without, if possible, turning away or bending over.
  •  Never bend over or crouch down. Doing so causes humans to resemble four-legged prey animals. Crouching down or bending over also makes the neck and back of the head vulnerable.
  • If you encounter a cougar, make yourself appear larger, more aggressive. Open your jacket, raise your arms, throw stones, branches, etc., without turning away. Wave raised arms slowly, and speak slowly, firmly, loudly to disrupt and discourage predatory behavior.
  • Try to remain standing to protect head and neck and, if attacked, fight back with whatever is at hand (without turning your back) people have utilized rocks, jackets, garden tools, tree branches, and even bare hands to turn away cougars.

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