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DNA tests link U.P. cougars to populations west of the Rockies

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Experts have determined through genetic testing on tissue samples of two cougars poached in the Upper Peninsula that the animals likely came from a population found in South Dakota, Wyoming and northwest Nebraska, according the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 

Since 2008, the DNR has confirmed 35 cougar reports in the Upper Peninsula, but so far there remains no conclusive evidence of a breeding population. No reports have been confirmed from Lower Michigan.

“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 Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife management specialist with the agency’s Bear and Wolf Program. “These males dispersed from the main population are looking to establish new territories.”

A cougar was found dead Feb. 1 in Dickinson County and conservation officers determined it had been in a snare and dumped in Breitung Township.

In 2013, a cougar was poached at a hunting camp near Seney. Three men from Bay City were arrested and convicted.

Researchers analyzed the DNA from the two samples and traced the mother-line ancestry to populations west of the Rocky Mountains.

Cougars are an endangered species in Michigan and protected by law.