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DNR verifies cougar tracks, photo

DNR verifies cougar tracks, photo

Cougars verified in eastern UP

OUT-Cougar-in-UPThe Department of Natural Resources today announced it has verified two sets of cougar tracks and confirmed the location of a cougar photo in the eastern Upper Peninsula. The tracks were discovered in the DeTour and Gulliver areas, while the photo was taken near Bruce Township.

On Oct. 26, DNR Wildlife Biologist Dave Jentoft received a call late in the day at the Shingleton Field Office reporting tracks that looked like cougar prints near DeTour. The caller was instructed to cover the tracks to protect them from the elements, and Jentoft was able to respond the next day to take photographs, measure the tracks and conduct a field investigation. The information Jentoft collected was shared with the DNR’s trained cougar team, and the consensus was reached that the tracks appear to have been made by a cougar.

On Nov. 2, DNR Wildlife Biologist Terry Minzey was contacted by a private landowner, near Gulliver, who reported finding large tracks that he thought may be from a cougar. DNR biologists Kristie Sitar and Kevin Swanson investigated the site with Minzey, taking measurements, photos and plaster casts of the tracks. In conjunction with the DNR’s specially trained cougar team, it was determined that the tracks are from a cougar.

“These are the first confirmed cougar tracks in the eastern Upper Peninsula, and we appreciate the cooperation of the callers who reported the tracks and worked to keep them covered until we could respond to the scene,” said Sitar, who is a member of the DNR’s cougar team. “Other landowners who believe they have evidence of a cougar on their property, such as tracks or a kill site, are encouraged to contact their local DNR field office as soon as possible, which allows staff to investigate before the evidence is compromised. Without good evidence, like what we had in these two cases, verification becomes increasingly difficult.”

The cougar photograph, taken by a trail camera on private property near Bruce Township in mid-October, has been under investigation by wildlife staff since Oct. 22. The photo shows a cougar at night walking through a food plot. Though there was no doubt the photo depicted a cougar, the location where the photo was taken was not accessible to DNR staff for on-site inspection until Nov. 2. At that time, a field investigation by Jentoft and DNR Wildlife Technician Tim Maples made it possible to verify the location by comparing camera angles and vegetation markers at the site, allowing wildlife officials to confirm the photo was taken at that spot.

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, originally were native to Michigan but were thought to have been extirpated around the turn of the last century. The last known wild cougar taken in Michigan was killed near Newberry in 1906. However, sightings are regularly reported and although verification is often difficult, the DNR was able to verify several sets of cougar tracks in Marquette and Delta counties in 2008.

Established cougar populations are found as close to Michigan as North and South Dakota, and transient cougars dispersing from these areas have been known to travel hundreds of miles in search of new territory.

Characteristic evidence of cougars include tracks, which are about three inches long by three and a half inches wide and typically show no claw marks, or suspicious kill sites, such as deer carcasses that are largely intact and have been buried with sticks and debris.

Reports of cougar tracks and other evidence should be made to a local DNR office or by calling the department’s 24-hour Report All Poaching line at 800-292-7800. If a citizen comes into contact with a cougar, the following behavior is recommended:

– Stop, stand tall, pick up small children and do not run. A cougar’s instinct is to chase.
– Do not approach the animal.
– Try to appear larger than the cougar. Never take your eyes off the animal or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
– If the animal displays aggressive behavior, shout, wave your arms and throw rocks. The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger.
– If a cougar attacks, fight back aggressively and try to stay on your feet. Do not play dead. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back.

Cougars are classified as an endangered species in Michigan. It is unlawful to kill, harass or otherwise harm a cougar except in the immediate defense of human life. For more information about the recent cougar tracks and photo, call Sitar at 906-293-5131. To learn more about cougars and how to identify their tracks, go online to www.michigan.gov/dnr and click on Wildlife and Habitat.

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