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A mountain lion investigates a pile of apples in this trail-camera photo captured by Casey Komarek of Two Harbors on Sept. 20. Department of Natural Resources officials believe the mountain lion is one that dispersed to Minnesota, possibly from South Dakota.(Photo courtesy of Casey Komarek)

Trail cam captures another Minnesota mountain lion in Two Harbors

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Few people now dispute the occasional presence of mountain lions in Northeastern Minnesota. But getting photographic documentation of them is difficult.

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Now, another verified photo has surfaced.

On Sept. 20, Casey Komarek of Two Harbors captured five images of an adult mountain lion on a remote trail camera he placed near Two Harbors. Then he almost trashed the images accidentally.

"It's kind of a funny story," Komarek said. "I pulled the card out of the camera and tried to download the pictures. It started flashing 'error on (digital camera) card.' I was going to throw it away. I figured the card was bad."

But he managed to get the photos downloaded and found the mountain lion images among about 500 other images on the card.

"I was pretty much stunned when I saw it," said Komarek, 32.

The photo represents the eighth documentation of a mountain lion in Minnesota in the past 15 years, said John Erb, furbearer/wolf research biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Grand Rapids. Those documentations include photos, a dead mountain lion or DNA of a mountain lion.

Among those eight, three have occurred since mid-August, Erb said. They include one near Littlefork, one in southwestern Minnesota near Big Stone Lake and now the Lake County photo.

Komarek's photo was made at a site where he had put out a mineral block and a pile of apples to attract deer.

Despite these recent documentations, Erb and other state biologists believe that these animals are not Minnesota residents but dispersing into the state, likely from South Dakota. Some of these animals could be from other western states, said Steve Loch, an independent wildlife biologist from Babbitt.

"We have yet to document reproduction (in Minnesota)," Erb said. "We have yet to document an animal that appears to have a stable range."

South Dakota's mountain lion population began to grow in the mid-1990s, Erb said, and some of the cats, typically males, began dispersing from the Black Hills area. One was radio-collared and was documented to have reached the Roseau area in 2005.

"All the data still supports the notion that what we get (in Minnesota) are dispersing, probably young, males. They've all been males," Erb said. "It occurs at a time of year when dispersal might be expected.

"And the increase we've seen in the last 10 years matches the time period of South Dakota's population reaching a peak," he said.

Documented photographs of wild, not captive-released, mountain lions remain rare. Erb said more than 90 percent of the supposed mountain lion sightings or photos are faked, or they are captive animals that have been released. Several mountain lion reports in recent years turned out to be captive animals, Erb said.

Erb has seen Komarek's photo and has seen other photos of the site that verify the photo was made in northern Minnesota.

Although some people may fear being attacked by a mountain lion, the chances are remote, Erb said. The risk of being injured in car-deer crash or bitten by a domestic dog is much greater, he said.

If you do encounter a mountain lion, don't run, Erb said.

"Make yourself look big, or throw rocks," Erb said. "But it's not likely the mountain lions we're seeing now are resident animals. In two days, it might be 50 miles away."

The DNR welcomes responsible reports of mountain lions, Erb said. The agency wants exact locations, especially if there's snow on the ground, so biologists can look for tracks, he said. But lots of manipulated photos make the rounds on the Internet.

Komarek's photo of the mountain lion was made in an area where he hunts deer. The season opens Nov. 6.

"It'll make walking through the dark to the deer stand raise the hair on the back of my neck a little more," Komarek said.

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