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
Only the presence of males has been confirmed so far, so it is unknown if
permanent populations are being established.
If you live in
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.