Tuesday, August 16, 2011


The cougar, mountain lion, puma, catamount, panther (Puma concolor) may be expanding its range.

A healthy 140 pound cougar was struck and killed by an SUV on Route 15 (Wilbur Cross Parkway) north of Milford, Connecticut on June 11 of this year (news story).  There had been reports of presumably the same animal a few days earlier in Greenwich, Connecticut which is next door to White Plains, New York (news story).

Genetic testing on the dead animal showed that it was the same animal spotted numerous times in Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2009 and 2010 (information here) where it was dubbed the St. Croix Cougar (they were able to obtain DNA from the animal's scat).  Turns out this cougar has the same DNA as a group of cats living in the Black Hills region of South Dakota (more information).  This was a surprise to me - I've been to the Black Hills a number of times and had no idea there were cougars endemic there!

Cougar caught by camera trap in Minnesota near Wisconsin border

This cougar has set a record for a straight-line travel distance of over 1,500 miles (well over in reality since it didn't travel in a straight line).  The cougar apparently traveled north of the Great Lakes through Canada and then may have come down through New York to get into Connecticut.

Are there other cougars in the East or is this just a fluke?  Most wildlife experts maintain that there are no breeding populations of cougars here in the East given that, if there were, we'd occassionally see them run over by cars as this one was and we'd find tracks (as they now do in Wisconsin and Minnesota).  On the other hand, for years now, I've heard some locals swear that they've seen cougars out in the wild in places like Sam's Point in the Shawangunks and up in the Catskills.

The New York State DEC position is that these reports are mistaken identifications and that cougars are extirpated in New York.  The St. Croix Cougar may be a harbinger of things to come, however, since cougars would do quite well here in New York if reintroduced.

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