ST. PAUL -- A cougar was struck and killed by a vehicle along a busy stretch of Twin Cities freeway early Tuesday, Sept. 29, but Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials don’t yet know where it came from.
DNR officials Tuesday morning said the agency picked up the dead cat near the intersection of interstates 494 and 35W in Bloomington.
The animal, a 115-pound male, was taken to the DNR Wildlife Research office in Grand Rapids, where it will undergo a necropsy to determine, among other things, if it’s wild and where it might have come from.
Most cougar sightings reported in Minnesota and Wisconsin turn out to be something else. But several times each year DNR wildlife experts in each state verify trail camera photos and dead cougars as authentic. Some cougars turn out to be escaped or released pets. But wildlife officials say some wild cougars, usually young males wandering from their homes in the western Dakotas, are confirmed in the state each year.
Because most of the cougars confirmed here are males, and with few if any females around, there has been little or no evidence of cougars reproducing or staying in Minnesota.
The Minnesota DNR reports that, since 2004, there have been about 50 verified cougar sightings in the state.
In July, North Shore photographer Ryan Pennesi, who specializes in setting up professional-grade "camera trap" trail cameras, retrieved a stunning image of a cougar from one of his camera traps. The animal was photographed near a mass of hilltop boulders that form a cave in Lake County but has not been seen since.
A well-traveled wild cougar that roamed across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in 2009 and 2010 wound up struck and killed by a car in Connecticut in 2011. That cougar — confirmed by DNA left in each location — is believed to have started its journey in South Dakota's Black Hills and may have set a record for farthest journey by a land mammal.
Human encounters with cougars are extremely rare. Even in California, which has a population of more than 5,000 of the big cats, a person is 1,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a cougar. Most cougars will avoid confrontation.
The Minnesota DNR suggests that, if you encounter a cougar:
- Face the cougar directly, raise your arms to make yourself appear larger and speak loudly and firmly. This behavior is in direct conflict with a cougar's tendency to hunt by stalking and attacking from ambush. Do not run, crouch or lie on the ground.
- Do not shoot the animal. Cougars are a protected species and may only be killed by a licensed peace officer or authorized permit holder.
- Report the encounter or sighting to a conservation officer or local law enforcement authorities as soon as possible so evidence such as photographs, tracks, hair and scat can be located, identified, confirmed and documented.