By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Last week, Terry Kutz reported seeing a cougar southeast of Lester Prairie the week before.
Kutz said he was on the Emmert Dose farm near Berry Cam, and was bow hunting for deer from a stand 12 feet up an evergreen tree when he saw the animal emerge from some tall grass and walk along a fence line.
He said he watched while the animal jumped up a tree and sat on a branch with its tail twitching for some 20 minutes before moving on.
“I wanted to alert the neighbors,” Kutz said, noting that he heard the sound of chickens coming from one neighbor’s property, and was concerned that the cougar might go after them.
Kutz noted that cougars tend to follow rivers, and the place he saw the animal was only about two blocks from the Crow River.
Kutz said it is “kind of spooky,” knowing that the cougar is out there.
He thinks about this when he is walking out of the woods just after dark, and said he always keeps an arrow in his hand, just in case.
Kutz said he also saw the cougar in the same area in mid-September.
Joe Stangel, area wildlife supervisor in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife division office in Nicollet, said the DNR receives a number of reports of cougars in Minnesota each year.
Stangel said he does not doubt the report, but noted the DNR classifies reports as unsubstantiated sightings, unless there is physical evidence that it can use for verification, such as photographs or tracks.
He said bow hunters often see wildlife that others might not because they are usually wearing camouflage and are usually in positions that give them a good view of the surrounding area.
Stangel said there is no evidence of any reproducing cougar population in Minnesota, and any cougar that is sighted is likely to be a transient animal, probably from the Black Hills area of South Dakota.
He said cougars are typically secretive and unlikely to stay in a populated area, preferring to live in areas with low road density, and few people.
Stangel said he has not received any reports of cougar sightings near Lester Prairie this year.
Stangel provided the following information about cougars from a DNR fact sheet:
Cougars (sometimes referred to as mountain lions or puma) were found throughout most of Minnesota prior to European settlement, though never in large numbers. Today, they are rarely seen, but do occasionally appear.
Like most wild animals, cougars will typically avoid any interaction with humans and an attack on a human would be highly unlikely. There has never been a reported case of a cougar attacking a human in Minnesota; even in western states, where cougars are relatively abundant, attacks on humans are extremely rare.
The following are commonly-asked questions about cougars:
Where do cougars come from?
Many of the cougars confirmed in Minnesota have had captive origins. Released or escaped pets often cannot be distinguished from wild animals, until they are killed or captured, and then only if they have obvious indications of captivity (e.g., they are tattooed or de-clawed).
The nearest known self-sustaining breeding population of cougars, estimated to number around 250, is in the Black Hills area of South Dakota (and to lesser extent, the North Dakota Badlands), several hundred miles from Minnesota.
The only known population of cougars east of the Mississippi River is in Florida (the Florida panther), where perhaps 50 wild animals continue to roam.
In the mid-2000s, a cougar that was fitted with a radio collar in the Black Hills was later located with telemetry equipment on the Roseau River Wildlife Management Area in northwestern Minnesota. This animal was there for about two weeks before disappearing.
It is possible that additional animals dispersing from the Black Hills or other western areas enter Minnesota.
Most animals confirmed in the Midwest in the past 15 years have been young males, the segment of a cougar population most likely to disperse in search of new territories. Once here, cougars are not restricted to territories by neighboring members of their species and therefore could move freely. While potential prey (e.g., deer) is abundant in Minnesota, dispersing cougars are not likely to stay in one area for long, instead continuing to search for suitable habitat with potential mates.
For a map of known cougar habitat and confirmed cougar sightings in the US since 1990, follow the link on the Herald Journal website, www.herald-journal.com.
How will I know if it’s really a cougar?
It is not unusual for people to mistake other animals for cougars. To identify a cougar, it is helpful to know that adult males can reach 200 pounds, but most are much smaller, and average about 150 pounds. Adult females usually weigh about 90 to 110 pounds.
The head appears small in relation to the body, which ranges in length from 4 to 6 feet overall.
Cougars are tan except for dark face markings and tip of tail, which is nearly as long as the body. An excellent identification guide, called the Puma Field Guide, is available at easterncougarnet.org.
How many cougars are there in Minnesota?
There is no evidence that Minnesota has a self-sustaining breeding population. And, because of their highly-secretive nature and tendency to wander, it is nearly impossible to accurately determine how many individual cougars there might be in Minnesota. Over the past 30 years, DNR biologists doubt there has ever been more than a couple wanderers in the state at one time.
Nevertheless, some are confirmed, and cougar confirmations in the Midwest have increased in the recent past. While uncertainty remains, most available information attributes the change to an increase in cougar populations out west, which, in turn, produces more dispersing cats, particularly when those populations approach carrying capacity. It is difficult to predict whether or when enough dispersers, both males and females, will settle in Minnesota and establish a small population.
What do cougars eat?
Cougars subsist primarily on mammals, primarily ungulates (e.g., deer), but also rabbit, squirrels, and porcupine. When opportunity presents itself, they may go after farm livestock or pets. While there have been reports of cougars attacking livestock, there has not been an actual confirmed case of predation of livestock in Minnesota.
Do cougars pose a threat in Minnesota?
There has never been a reported incident of cougars attacking humans in Minnesota and no predation on livestock has been conclusively confirmed by DNR staff. However, it is wise to remember that no wild animal is ever entirely predictable.
What should I do if I think I saw a cougar?
Report what you saw as soon as possible to the nearest DNR Wildlife Office or conservation officer. Note the date and time of the possible sighting, the location where the animal was seen, and a description of what you saw. If the opportunity presents itself, take a photograph of the animal or other potential evidence like tracks. The DNR collects reports from citizens. Any physical evidence that could indicate the presence of a cougar will be investigated and proper steps taken to ensure public safety.
What should I do if I encounter a cougar?
An encounter would be extremely rare in Minnesota. Cougars hunt by stalking and attacking from ambush and if encountered should be faced. Recommended actions include making yourself appear large by holding your arms above your head, waving a hat or jacket, talking loudly and firmly, and throwing rocks or sticks at the animal to chase it away. If actually attacked, hit the animal in the face and head with anything handy. Don’t run, crouch, or lay down. Try to stay above the animal, and give the animal a clear escape route.
Can I shoot a problem animal?
No. Public safety officials are authorized to kill a cougar that proves to be an imminent threat to humans. Cougars are protected by law. However, if there is a proven public safety concern, or if the animal is caught in the act of killing or injuring livestock, DNR or licensed peace officers can take action or authorize the taking of a problem animal.
Should you become concerned with a cougar in your vicinity, contact a DNR conservation officer or other local public law enforcement authority to evaluate the situation and resolve problems. They have responsibility for public safety. DNR enforcement and wildlife personnel will work with them to quickly evaluate and resolve problems.
Will the DNR remove a cougar?
Relocating problem animals is usually impractical because the same problems could occur at new release sites. Deporting them to western states, where cougar populations already exist, is often prohibitively expensive and can also result in territorial struggles and the death of the released animal.
Information from: Cougar fact sheet/C.B. Bylander/September 2009.