Cougars have been on our minds quite a lot this year! A few weeks ago, three cougar photos captured by trail cameras in the Upper Peninsula were confirmed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. And over the summer, the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy released a rare daytime photo of a cougar walking through the woods of southern Marquette County.
There have been 20 confirmed sightings of cougars in the Upper Peninsula since 2008. Cougars are native to Michigan, but their population drastically declined in the early 1900s when they were extirpated from the state. The last confirmed wild cougar prior to 2008 was killed near Newberry in 1906.
Cougars are listed as endangered in Michigan and are protected under state law. They are primarily nocturnal, and are solitary animals that prefer to hunt from cover. Their primary prey is wild deer and occasionally young moose. Cougars typically weigh between 90 and 180 pounds and have a body length of about five to six feet long.
Cougars recently documented in Michigan may be transient cougars from the nearest known breeding populations in North and South Dakota, more than 900 miles away. One of the cougar images captured earlier this year showed a cougar wearing a radio collar. The state of Michigan does not use radio collars to track cougars, but North and South Dakota do.
It is also possible that some of the recently-spotted cougars could be escaped or released pets. It has been illegal to own large exotic cats in Michigan since 2000, but a few people who owned them prior to the ban do have permits to keep them. The DNR occasionally will receive reports of illegally-owned cougars and will confiscate the animals.