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Cougars were originally native to Michigan, but they were wiped out from Michigan around the early 1900s. The last known wild cougar legally taken in the state occurred in 1906 near Newberry. In recent years, numerous cougar sighting reports have been received from various locations in Michigan. There have been many confirmed cougar sightings since 2008, including two illegal harvests in the Upper Peninsula. This situation is not unique to Michigan, but has been occurring in many other mid-western and eastern states, as young males disperse from core range in the western United States.
General Cougar Questions
1. 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 legally 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.
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. The National Park Service has conducted road and trail surveys and trail camera surveillance in the past, designed to detect cougars in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. No evidence of cougars has been 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?
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.
We understand that the prospect of cougars in Michigan can be alarming because cougars are potentially dangerous wild animals. In states with established populations (for example California and Colorado), people have been attacked and killed by cougars. The available evidence tells us that populations in the Midwest are very low and therefore, the likelihood of cougar encounters and attacks is also very low.
What should I do if I encounter a cougar?
The odds of encountering a cougar in the wild are very small and attacks are extremely rare. Should you encounter a cougar:
- Face the animal and do not act submissive. Stand tall, wave your arms, and talk in a loud voice.
- Never run from a cougar or other large carnivore. If children are present, pick them up so they cannot run.
- If attacked, fight back with whatever is available. DO NOT play dead.
- Report the encounter to local authorities and the DNR as soon as possible.
Can I kill a cougar or other large cat to protect myself, my children or other people?
Cougars or large exotic cats that are a direct and immediate threat to human life may be killed. If an animal is killed, the incident must be reported to the DNR. The DNR will respond to reports of cougars/large cats in residential or urban areas, if physical evidence is available. If animals are judged to be a threat to human life and safety, conservation officers or other qualified DNR employees may remove or euthanize the animal.
How can I discourage cougars around my home or farm?
- Keep your pets indoors or in a covered outdoor kennel, particularly at night.
- Install outside lighting, preferably with motion sensors.
- Protect, fence, and shelter livestock, particularly at night.
- Do not feed wildlife, this attracts potential prey sources. Landscape wisely, cover attracts wildlife.
What if I suspect a cougar has killed my livestock?
Wild cougars may not be killed by the public in defense of pets or livestock without a permit from the DNR. However, under the Large Carnivore Act, large cats (including exotics and cougars) that are escaped pets may be destroyed in defense of property, as well as life. An animal acting tame or unafraid of people is likely to be a pet.
We will investigate complaints of livestock depredation by cougars. It is critical these be reported immediately. All physical evidence will be collected by the DNR. Please do not remove evidence.
Description and Life History
The cougar typically weighs between 90 and 180 lbs, with a few large males topping 200 lbs. Cougars are tan to brown. Adult cougars have a body length about 5-6 feet long from nose to base of tail. The tail is long and thick with a black tip. The head is relatively small compared to the body. Cougars are primarily nocturnal although they can be active during the day. They are solitary and secretive animals that prefer to hunt from cover. Cougars have a relatively short life span - 8 to 12 years. Over most of its range the cougar's primary wild prey is deer. Cougars are opportunistic predators and will take prey of varying sizes up to and including young moose. Occasionally, livestock and domestic dogs are also taken as prey. Prey is most frequently killed by a bite to the neck, which severs the spinal column. Cougars are most often found in rural or relatively remote areas with ample cover and adequate prey populations. They are extremely secretive animals. In the western states, they may exist in close proximity to people.
Links to Other Cougar Resources