Photo via Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Photo via Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Four counties in the UP have confirmed big cats sightings this year.

MICHIGAN — Cougar sightings are hotly debated in Michigan, despite the fact that they’ve been spotted dozens of times since 2008, and were originally native to Michigan before being scattered across the state, mostly due to habitat loss.

But that’s mostly because sightings are relatively rare — there’s been about 55 total in the last 12 years, and all but one of those officially recorded have been in the Upper Peninsula.

On Wednesday, the DNR shared an update of the latest crop of cougar sightings in Michigan, and their findings show just how isolated and wide-ranging the animals have truly become.

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All Six Cougar Sightings Recorded in Upper Peninsula for 2020

The six confirmed reports of cougar sightings in Michigan have all been recorded in the Upper Peninsula for 2020: one each in Chippewa, Ontonagon and Schoolcraft Counties and three in Delta County.

The DNR Wildlife Division staff confirmed two of those reports after finding cougar tracks while conducting its annual UP Winter wolf track survey. Four additional sightings were confirmed after residents submitted trail camera photos of cougars.

Photo via Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“No matter what you call them – pumas, panthers, mountain lions or cougars…The DNR wants residents to know the department is listening and keeping a careful eye on where cougars reportedly are turning up,” the organization said in a news release.

The organization added that it’s important to note that the reports could be multiple sightings of the same animal. State wildlife experts say there’s no evidence of a breeding population of cougars in Michigan, and that some of the cougars being spotted may have come from faraway states.

“DNA analysis of two cougars poached in the U.P., for example, showed the animals likely dispersed from their established populations in South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska,” said Cody Norton, large carnivore specialist with the DNR.

The last known wild cougar taken legally in the state happened over 100 years ago in Newberry, the hometown of the Tahquamenon Falls. Two illegal harvests have also been recorded in the Upper Peninsula.

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DNR Offers Additional Cougar Info on Its Website

While meetings between humans and cougars are rare in the wild, the DNR offers tips for what to do in case of an encounter on its website at Michigan.gov/Cougars, along with additional information on the state’s only species of big cat.

Those who live in an area where cougars may be present are encouraged to keep their pets indoors or in a covered outdoor kennel, especially at night, and to install outside lighting, preferably with motion sensors.

They are also encouraged to protect, fence and shelter livestock, especially at night, and to avoid feeding wildlife nearby as it may attract potential prey sources.

Cougars are an endangered species in Michigan and are protected by law. For more information about recent confirmed sightings or to submit a cougar report, visit Michigan.gov/Cougars.

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