General Cougar Questions1. Is there a population of wild cougars in Michigan?
Cougars, also called mountain lions, were originally native to Michigan, but were extirpated from Michigan around the turn of the century. The last known wild cougar taken in the state occurred in 1906 near Newberry. There have been periodic reports of cougar sightings since that time from various locations in Michigan. This situation is not unique to Michigan, and has been occurring in many other mid-western and eastern states as well.
In 2004, a hair sample was collected from a vehicle bumper and tested using DNA analysis. That sample was positively identified as cougar.
A recent study based on DNA analysis of scat samples was conducted by Central Michigan University and the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy. That study showed that samples from eight locations tested as positive as cougars.
2. Are cougar sightings by themselves evidence that cougars are here?
No. Most state wildlife agencies, including the Michigan DNR, rely on physical evidence such as carcasses, DNA evidence, tracks, photos, and other sign verified by experts to document the presence of cougars.
3. Is the DNR conducting surveys for cougars in Michigan?
The Wildlife Division conducts annual winter track surveys for wolves and other furbearers covering thousands of miles of roads and trails in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. These surveys have a high likelihood of detecting cougars if a population existed in those areas.
4. If cougars are here, where did they come from?
Based on documented evidence, cougars observed in Michigan could be escaped or released pets. Or, they could be transient or dispersing cougars from the nearest known breeding populations in North and South Dakota. These populations are over 900 miles from Michigan. During the winter of 2004-2005, the National Park Service conducted road and trail surveys and trail camera surveillance designed to detect cougars in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. No evidence of cougars was found.
5. Did the DNR release cougars into the wild in Michigan?
The DNR has never released cougars in Michigan, and has no plans to do so.
6. Is the cougar endangered in Michigan?
The species in Michigan is listed as endangered and is protected under state law.
7. Are there pet cougars or exotic big cats like leopards and African lions in Michigan?
A few people who owned cougars or large cats prior to 2000 are still permitted to own these animals. It has been illegal to own a cougar or large exotic cats such as African lions, leopards, and jaguars, in Michigan since 2000. No new permits are being issued. The DNR occasionally receives reports of illegally owned large pet cats including cougars, and has confiscated these animals. It is possible that escaped or released pet cougars account for at least a portion of the sightings in Michigan.
8. Can cougars be black?
There is no scientific documentation that a black color phase exists in cougars in North America. Several species of the larger spotted cats (leopard and jaguars) do have black color phases. An exotic cat called a jaguarundi, which looks somewhat similar to a cougar -- just a smaller size, has a black phase.
9. How do I report a cougar sighting?
Sightings of cougars may be reported on-line at www.michigan.gov/dnr under Wildlife and Habitat -Wildlife Observations. Online observations are used for data collection purposes only.
If you have physical evidence of a cougar (scat, tracks, or carcass), contact your local DNR Operations Service Center. After business hours, contact the DNR Report all Poaching (RAP) hotline at 800-292-7800. Be careful to not disturb the area and keep physical evidence intact until it can be investigated. If you have a livestock depredation situation, contact your local DNR Operations Service Center. After business hours, contact the DNR Report all Poaching (RAP) hotline at 800-292-7800.