TRAVERSE CITY (WWJ/AP) – State officials say genetic testing indicates two cougars killed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula probably migrated to the state from farther west.
The Department of Natural Resources says DNA analysis of tissue samples links the cougars with populations based in Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska.
One of the male cougars was found dead last February near Iron Mountain. The other was poached in Schoolcraft County in 2013.
Researchers with the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation in Montana examined tissue from both.
DNR wildlife specialist Kevin Swanson says the findings support the agency’s position that Michigan has no native cougars — even though the DNR has confirmed 35 reports of the big cats’ presence in the U.P. since 2008.
“This genetic research lines up with what we’ve presumed previously, that cougars found in the Upper Peninsula are males dispersing from this population east of the Rocky Mountains,” said Swanson, in a media release. “These males dispersed from the main population are looking to establish new territories.”
“This research adds a couple more pieces to the puzzle, helping us to learn more about the cougars found in the Upper Peninsula,” Swanson said. “We still have not found the presence of any females or cubs, which would indicate a breeding population. This analysis also adds information to the center’s data set.”
Patrick Rusz of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy has long contended that Michigan does have a breeding population. He said Tuesday the tissue analysis results didn’t change his mind.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cougars were once the most widely-distributed land animal in the Western Hemisphere, but have been eliminated from about two-thirds of their historic range.
At one time, cougars lived in every eastern state in a variety of habitats including coastal marshes, mountains and forests. They were native to Michigan, but were trapped and hunted from the state around the turn of the 20th Century.
Thirteen western states allow cougar hunting and the North American cougar is listed there as a game species.
However, cougars are an endangered species in Michigan protected by law.
Although the likelihood of encountering a cougar in the wild is “very small” and attacks are “extremely rare,” according to the DNR, the agency does offer tips the following tips for what to do if you do come upon a cougar:
- Face the animal and do not act submissive. Stand tall, wave your arms, and talk in a loud voice.
- Never run from a cougar or other large carnivore. If children are present, pick them up so they cannot run.
- If attacked, fight back with whatever is available. DO NOT play dead.
- Report the encounter to local authorities and the DNR as soon as possible.
Cougar photos and other evidence — such as tracks, scat or cached kills — should be reported to the DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline (1-800-292-7800). Cash rewards are available to tipsters and information may be provided anonymously. Poaching can also be reported via the online reporting form at this link.
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