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.