For the first time in more than 100 years, a cougar has officially been found in Michigan's Lower Peninsula.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources confirmed the presence of a cougar in Bath Township, Clinton County.
A photo of the cougar was captured by a Haslett resident near the Rose Lake Wildlife Area on June 21. After a field investigation, the MDNR confirmed that the animal was indeed a cougar, also commonly referred to as a mountain lion.
In a statement, MDNR wildlife specialist Kevin Swanson said, "Even with this verification, questions remain, especially regarding the origins of the animal. There is no way for us to know if this animal is a dispersing transient from a western state, like cougars that have been genetically tested from the Upper Peninsula, or if this cat was released locally."
More from the MDNR press release:
Cougars originally were native to Michigan, but were extirpated from Michigan around the turn of the century. The last time a wild cougar was legally taken in the state was near Newberry in 1906. Over the past few years, numerous cougar reports have been received from various locations throughout Michigan. Until this time, all confirmed sightings or tracks have been in the Upper Peninsula. Since 2008 a total of 36 cougar sightings have been documented in Michigan’s U.P. To date, the DNR has not confirmed a breeding population of cougars in Michigan.
Cougars are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and interactions with humans are extremely rare.
Kevin Swanson says the MDNR frequently gets phone calls from Michigan residents who say they've seen a cougar.
"But most of those sightings are actually house cats," Swanson said.
Officials are requesting that citizens submit photos of possible sightings for verification, and that any physical evidence of a cougar such as tracks remain undisturbed.