ONTONAGON COUNTY - Michigan's Department of Natural Resources has confirmed that a cat-like animal seen crossing before a video camera is in fact a cougar.
Adam Bump, bear and furbearer specialist with the DNR in Lansing, said the animal was caught on a bear bait camera by an individual on private property in Ontonagon. He declined to specify where out of respect for the landowners.
"We received information Sept. 9 and the video was taken Sept. 8," Bump said.
David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette In this screen shot, a cougar was captured on video last week
DNR Wildlife Division staff visited the property Sept. 12 where the trail cam is mounted and verified the location of the camera.
The animal can be seen for a few seconds slowly moving through the grass on a trail. The cougar is wearing a radio collar and has a tagged ear, an indication that he traveled to Ontonagon from somewhere out west, Bump said.
"It is not from Michigan," he said. "We assume it's from out west and we're trying very hard to see if we can track down the location of that animal and see who radio-collared it."
David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette
In this screen shot, a cougar was captured on video last week in Ontonagon County. Michigan's Department of Natural Resources confirmed the cat-like animal on the video is a cougar. The cougar likely traveled thousands of miles before entering Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, according to a DNR representative.
Bump said the animal most likely made a long trip. The DNR learned from other radio-collared animals that they have traveled up to 700 miles from the Dakotas. In fact, one cougar was recently road-killed in the state of Connecticut and Bump said it most likely originated in the Dakotas and had been through Wisconsin.
"That cat had to have traveled thousands of miles to get where it was," he said.
Unlike many other animals, cougars do not travel in packs and in most cases, a young male disperses and travels much further than females.
From the video, it's hard to judge the size of the animal, but Bump said unique characteristics alluded to it being a cougar. The animal can be distinguished from any native cats, including bobcats and domestic cats, because they are much larger and their tail is longer and rope-like, curving down or up and has a dark tip on the end of it. The cougar's tail is usually more than half the length of its body and the animal is usually tan in color with a white underbelly.
"There's really nothing else that has that physical appearance," he said.
Over the decades, Bump said the DNR has received many reported cougar sightings and evidence state-wide. They have been unable to verify any sightings until this video footage, he said. In 1906, a cougar was killed in the Upper Peninsula in Newberry.
"We've had five sets of tracks and now three trail camera pictures since 2008 that we've been able to verify," he said. "They've all been in the U.P. except for this most recent one; they've all been from the central U.P. east."
The cougar used to be native to Michigan but was extirpated many years ago, Bump said. Since then, it has always been questioned if they are still here; however, it's only been proven that transients are moving throughout the region. There is no evidence of a breeding population.
Bump said it is unlikely anyone will happen upon a cougar because they are very secretive and avoid people.
"In the extremely unlikely case where you happen to run into one or encounter one close is to speak firmly to them, wave your arms, make yourself look as big as possible and try to back away," he said.
If attacked, Bump said to fight back because cougars seem to give up easily. Even in states with healthy cougar populations with the animal in close proximity to people, cougar attacks are rare, making the likelihood in Michigan extremely rare, he said.
Throughout the years in the Copper Country, encounters or evidence of cougars have been reported and either verified or dismissed. In a Sept. 19, 2001, Daily Mining Gazette article, a woman said she encountered a cougar at Walmart, ran back to her car and called the DNR to report the sighting. In May 2003, another Gazette story reported that local biologists were collecting evidence to prove the existence of cougars in the state.
To see the Ontonagon video, visit The Daily Mining Gazette website at mininggazette.com.