Cougar migrated from South Dakota

The mountain lion was killed by a car in Milford, Connecticut. Photo courtesty of Connecticut DEEP.
The mountain lion was killed by a car in Connecticut. Photo courtesy of Connecticut DEEP.

You may have read about the cougar that was killed when struck by a car in Milford, Connecticut, in June. There was a lot of speculation about where it came from. Was it a wild cougar? Was it an escaped or released pet?

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced today that a genetic analysis revealed that the cat likely came from a wild population in South Dakota. DNA samples also revealed that it was the same animal whose movements were tracked in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2009 and 2010.

Several years ago, in The Beast in the Garden, David Baron wrote that western mountain lions were becoming more adapted to human landscapes and had begun to migrate eastward. He predicted that it would be only a matter of time before the big cats arrived here in the East. And now we know that one, at least, made it this far.

“This is the first evidence of a mountain making its way to Connecticut from western state,” said Daniel Esty, the commissioner of Connecticut agency, “and there is still no evidence indicating that there is a native population of mountain lions in Connecticut.”

Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said it’s possible that the cougar passed through New York, but the department had no confirmed sightings of the cat. She added that this is the first time the department has seen proof that a cougar has migrated this far east.

Cougars once lived in the Adirondacks, but state wildlife biologists say they have been extirpated since the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, cougar sightings are reported fairly frequently. Generally,  state biologists write them off as cases of mistaken identity. Any cougar that is sighted for real is thought to be a former pet.

In the July/August issue of the Adirondack Explorer, wildlife biologist Rainer Brocke argues in a Viewpoint that the Adirondacks does not have enough wilderness to support a population of cougars. Look for a rebuttal in the September/October issue, written by John Laundre, a biologist who says recent research indicates that cougars can live in proximity to humans.

That a cougar migrated 1,500 miles from South Dakota to Connecticut is a point in Laundre’s favor. On the other hand, as Brocke would note, it did get hit by a car.

Click here to read the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection news release.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. Pete Klein says

    Cars are the number one terrorist of humans and other animals.

    Hope some cougars set up shop in the Adirondacks. Wolves too.

    Maybe a saber toothed tiger or two just for fun?

    How about some car collisions with mastodons and/or mammoths?

  2. Paul says

    “The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced today that a genetic analysis revealed that the cat likely came from a wild population in South Dakota. DNA samples also revealed that it was the same animal whose movements were tracked in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2009 and 2010.”

    I wonder how this works? I am surprised that they have accurate genetic markers that can distinguish a South Dakota cougar from say a North Dakota cougar or from a Colorado cougar? They must have also taken scat samples in Minnesota and Wisconsin and saved them for DNA analysis to compare it to this cat. Wild. They are definitely following this carefully if all this is accurate.

  3. Paul says

    If you look at that story, they also speculate that going through NY was probably the route the animal took. Maybe the reason they lost it for a year was because unlike these other states that were tracking the cat NY has been in denial that a cat could ever be in a place like the Adirondacks.

  4. Phil Brown says

    Thanks for sharing that link, Paul. There’s a good chance that the cat did travel through NYS, but we can’t know for sure.

  5. Paul says

    The DNA analysis is impressive. I was skeptical that they would have had such markers but that shows what I know. If the animal was tracked in Minnesota and Wisconsin and they think it went into the UP pf Michigan I don’t think that it could get back into the rest of Michigan or Canada without crossing a bridge or swimming for it? If they swim well then the Upper Peninsula to Canada is the most likely (and less urban route). Then he had to get to CT through NY or New England. Amazing, what a trip!

  6. Phil Brown says

    The crossing from Upper Peninsula to Ontario is pretty narrow. I need to ask a biologist how cougars are at swimming. If it was winter, he may have crossed on ice.

  7. Paul says

    Need to double check with an expert, but according to Mr. Google these cats can swim but don’t care much for it. It was a tough journey either way. Here is a wild piece of speculation. The one being tracked in Minnesota and Wisconsin (that they “lost”) was another Black Hill’s cat. The one in Connecticut made the whole trip undetected through Canada around the lakes?

  8. Phil says

    Paul, the Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet says cougars can swim. I was told this cougar swam the St. Croix River to get from Minn. to Wisc. and that a cougar would be capable of swimming from Upper Peninsula to Canada, perhaps via islands in the river. Of course, it would have to cross the St. Lawrence to get from Canada to U.S. You can see a rare video of a swimming cougar here:

  9. Paul says

    Neat video. It is amazing to think that he swam to Canada, but he probably did. The southern rout seems fought with many other dangers (and people). This cat must have a GPS! I assume he also had his passport! It is not like the old days where any old US cat could cross into Canada without one.

  10. Decanter says

    I don,t know what happened with this cat and why the cat died…. you should take the cat and go to the doctor.I am much horrified to see this situation.

  11. Philip Ryan says

    Most of these comments were before the Conservationist article published a year or two later than the CT road kill. NYSDEC C. O.’s wife saw it near Lake George pre CT. Many may remember Wild Center short films about DNA Moose Scat analysis during this decade, so was cool to hear that Wisc and NY sightings used that tech to confirm exact individual animal. March Cabin Fever Lectures in Hillsborough, NH included best attended on (?) New Eng or NE Mountain Lion Reporting Network gentleman, several yrs after the CT end. Two neighbors, likely 50 at least, noted they had a mt lion between their two farms in Peterborough, NH area for probably a month if I recall correctly. Sure made coming out of woods after dark a little more exciting after checking trail/game cams after that! The “Network” guy seemed credible at every turn with lots of data. Would love it if someone could find the site and post a link?

  12. Barbara Landsberg says

    Once you hear one will knowi it is no Bobcat, or Lynx!! They are here, maybe passing thru, maybe relocating here. Many sites of pug tracks. Rockwood Forest, North Bush, Willie Road Swamp. ++
    Speculator area.. Jessup River..


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