The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said one of its game cameras set up as part of an ongoing state deer movement study captured images of a cougar in Gogebic County, about 9 miles north of Ironwood in the state's Upper Peninsula.
The DNR said these images were reviewed and verified by their cougar team. The images were captured at 7:15 p.m. on Oct. 1.
The daylight photos on the game camera show the cougar, or mountain lion, walking past from right to left. Biologists noted there was no tracking collar on the cougar. No identification of whether the animal was a male or female was possible, the DNR said.
Since 2008, the DNR has confirmed 38 cougar reports, with all but one of those occurring in the Upper Peninsula. These reports include multiple sightings of the same cougar, not 38 individual animals.
“This latest confirmed report illustrates just how rare cougars are in the Upper Peninsula,” said Brian Roell, a DNR wildlife biologist in Marquette. “This is the first time we’ve ever caught a cougar on more than three million game camera images we’ve collected in our studies since 2009.”
The DNR said there remains "no conclusive evidence of a Michigan breeding population of mountain lions." Cougars are an endangered species in Michigan protected by law.
“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 Kevin Swanson, a DNR wildlife management specialist with the department’s Bear and Wolf Program. “These males dispersed from the main population are looking to establish new territories.”
The DNR said that, 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.