Yet another cougar has moved across the Northland, heading east into Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Trail camera photographs taken in northern Douglas County on July 25, in Iron County on Aug. 30 and near Ontonagon, Mich., on Sept. 8 appear to show the same collared cougar, said Adrian Wydeven, a wildlife biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Wydeven said all three photographs were reported to DNR staff several days after the photos were taken, so there's been no chance to gather DNA evidence to confirm it is the same animal.
"But considering we don't get many confirmed cougars like this, and to have more than one with a collar and an ear tag -- that would be unlikely," Wydeven said.
The three sightings of a single animal reveal something about the number of cougars and the number of cameras, he said.
"It tells me there must be a whole lot of these cameras out in the woods for this to show up three times. If there were more cougars, they would be showing up, too," Wydeven said. "It's getting to be an animal can't sneak around at all in the woods any more without having its picture taken."
With apparently hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of trail cameras out there snapping photos, this is only the second confirmed cougar in the past two years. That tells Wydeven there are not a lot of the big cats roaming the Northland.
While several cougars are reported each year to natural resource officials in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, few sightings are verified. Even when photographs are reported, most turn out to be other animals such as bobcats or fishers, Wydeven said.
The recent sightings constitute the first confirmed cougar report in northern Wisconsin since early 2010, when a cougar was spotted and confirmed with DNA evidence in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan before moving even farther east. That cougar amazed wildlife experts by showing up dead in June, hit by an SUV in Connecticut. It's believed to be the farthest-roaming wild cat ever documented, more than 1,600 miles from its probable birthplace in South Dakota's Black Hills.
Wydeven said the collar on the latest cougar -- clearly showing in the Iron County game trail camera photograph -- at first confused him because it was unlike most new radio or GPS signal collars used by natural resource agencies to track animals. But, after checking with cohorts in other states, Wydeven said it appears South Dakota has used some small radio-transmitter collars that look like the one on the cougar.
Most of the few cougars seen in the Northland are believed to be from the western Dakotas, the closest reproducing population. Then again, South Dakota didn't think it was missing any of its collared cats. And most radio-collared cougars are females, while most far-roaming cougars are males.
"So that's a bit perplexing," Wydeven said. "And it's interesting that there seems to be some pattern here of these cats wanting to move east."
Steve Loch, a wildlife biologist from Babbitt who tracks and tries to verify cougar sightings across the Upper Midwest, said there were no recent reports of an ear-tagged and collared cat moving across Minnesota. The 2010 Wisconsin cat, by contrast, was first seen and confirmed in Minnesota.
"Our immigrant lions are from the west. ... They just keep heading east," Loch said. "Young males are looking for females; when they do not find any, they keep moving."
Cougars also are called mountain lions and pumas.