LANSING, MI – Two cougar mounts recently provided to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources have attracted a lot of attention in Luce County this summer.
The animals are being displayed to help the public learn more about these highly secretive and uncommon visitors to the Upper Peninsula.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cougars – also called mountain lions – were once the most widely distributed land animal in the Western Hemisphere, but have been eliminated from about two-thirds of their historic range.
At one time, cougars lived in every eastern state in a variety of habitats including coastal marshes, mountains and forests. They were native to Michigan, but were extirpated from the state around the turn of the 20th century.
These big, long-tailed cats typically hunt at night, generally weigh between 90 and 180 pounds and measure 5 to 6 feet from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail.
One of the DNR’s two cougar mounts is on display at the “Fact Shack” at the Upper Falls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which is situated off M-123, about 25 miles north of Newberry.
“The cougar was donated by the GarLyn Zoo in Naubinway and was a captive animal that died of natural causes,” said Theresa Neal, park interpreter at Tahquamenon Falls. “The display features information about cougars in Michigan, an actual cougar track cast and information on how the DNR handles reports and sightings of cougars.”
The second cougar mount can be seen at the DNR’s Newberry customer service center, located off M-123, just south of Newberry. This glass-encased cat was received by the DNR at the close of a cougar poaching case in Schoolcraft County.
During the 2013 muzzle-loader deer hunting season in the Upper Peninsula, conservation officers received a tip that a cougar had been killed at a hunting camp near Seney.
“The investigation revealed the animal was shot and wounded with a rifle when it entered a field near the camp,” said DNR Sgt. Mike Hammill. “The following day, the cougar was tracked down and killed by one of the suspects.”
Hammill said the suspects returned home to Bay City with the cougar, intending to mount the animal.
“Before this took place, three suspects were identified, interviewed and ultimately arrested and the cougar was recovered,” Hammill said. “The suspects involved were all convicted, served jail time, paid several thousand dollars in fines, costs and restitution, and lost hunting privileges for several years.”
Hammill said that as a part of the sentence, the shooter was required to pay the cost of having the animal mounted.
In August, the cougar mount was displayed at the DNR’s Pocket Park during the Upper Peninsula State Fair in Escanaba. Following the fair, the cougar was exhibited at the Schoolcraft County Courthouse in Manistique, before returning to the Newberry DNR customer service center earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the DNR has confirmed 31 cougar reports in the Upper Peninsula since 2008, but so far there remains no evidence confirmed of a breeding population.
“Within the last decade, numerous cougar sighting reports have been received from various locations in Michigan and are investigated by DNR Wildlife Division’s cougar team,” said Kevin Swanson, a DNR wildlife biologist in Marquette.
The most recent confirmed mountain lion report occurred in September with DNR verification of a trail-camera image in Dickinson County.
“This situation is not unique to Michigan, but has been occurring in many other Midwestern and eastern states as young males disperse from core range areas in the western United States,” Swanson said.
All of Michigan’s DNR-verified cougar reports have come from the Upper Peninsula, where 12 of the region’s 15 counties have had reports.
Marquette County has led the confirmed cougar reports with six; Menominee County has had four; Houghton, Delta and Mackinac counties have had three each, while Baraga, Chippewa, Luce, Schoolcraft and Ontonagon counties have each had two and Keweenaw and Dickinson have had one each.
Of those confirmed reports, 21 involved photos, eight were tracks, one was video and scat and the remaining confirmed report was that of the cougar poached near Seney in Schoolcraft County in 2013.
To learn more about cougars in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/cougars.
Information about Tahquamenon Falls State Park, including maps and the nature program schedule, can be found at www.michigan.gov/