Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lions Without Mountains

The news was terrible for wildlife when a recent report on the world situation showed numbers down about 40 percent in just the past several decades. Expanding human populations and activities are causing the declines, the study compilers said. But, as in all broad trends, there are exceptions. Mountain lions, missing from the landscape for a century, are returning to the American Midwest.

Mountain lions (cougars) are secretive animals seldom seen by humans even in western areas where numbers can be high. Eastern cougars once were native to Wisconsin and Michigan, but they  were eliminated by uncontrolled hunting and trapping and forest devastation by the early 1900s.

A camera set up to photograph trail users filmed this cougar near Merrill, Wisconsin. Other cougar sightings have been confirmed in the state in recent years. (photo: Wisconsin DNR)

Since 1910, numerous farmers, hikers, and hunters have reported sighting cougars in both states. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources so far has been unable to find physical evidence to confirm a sighting. Not so in Wisconsin. There, on July 30, a trail camera photographed a cougar on private property about 20 miles from my hometown. It was the third confirmed sighting this year, and there were several in previous years.

According to the Wisconsin DNR, the animals known to be roaming the state's north woods probably are western cougars, somewhat different from the type that originally inhabited the area. Wildlife biologists think the newcomers journeyed from the large populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They probably were lured by excess numbers of deer, a favorite cougar prey, in northern Wisconsin. Only the presence of males has been confirmed so far, so it is unknown if permanent populations are being established.

If you live in Wisconsin or Michigan, don't start panicking about the possibility of being confronted by a cougar. In the unlikely event you encounter one,  DNR advice is to face it squarely, open your coat or jacket to make yourself appear bigger, make noise, and throw sticks or stones at it. Chances are high the cougar will run. It probably won't run all the way back to South Dakota, though.

3 comments: said...

I love cats of all stripes. Thanks for sharing the good news. There is so much pressure on all the other species as we humans crowd into smaller and smaller spaces and need more and more. All well and good to care about animals, but conservation is the answer.

PiedType said...

Yep, I'd call that a cougar. How exciting to have them in your area! (I confess, felines are my favorite wild creatures and tigers my favorite feline.) We have cougars in Colorado, although I've never seen one. My brother encountered one once, on a trail east of Boulder. He made himself look as big as possible (not hard, since he's 6'4") and backed away. Some trepidation because his dog was with him, but the dog behaved, didn't challenge the cat, and they all parted company none the worse for the encounter.

I saddens me, knowing what mankind is doing to the wildlife of the world, and to wild habitat. I fear wild tigers will be gone in my lifetime, an unimaginable tragedy.

Stephanie M said...

It's so sad that cougars have such a negative connotation with their name. Cats of all size are amazing, and it's so nice to have my small cat while I'm so cold up in the north US. I agree with Schmidleyscribblins, conservation is the answer!