The mountain lions of Michigan

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Author: Kirk Johnson
Date: March-April 2002
From: Endangered Species Update(Vol. 19, Issue 2)
Publisher: University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,441 words

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Though the mountain lion (Puma concolor) has been considered extirpated in Michigan since the early 1900s, sightings of the big cats have persisted in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Reports of mountain lions increased during the 1990s, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does acknowledge the existence of this species within the state. However, State officials continue to insist that the majority of these sightings involve former captive animals or misidentification of other species, rather than a wild population of mountain lions. The growing number of mountain lion sightings in recent years--by biologists, hunters, and other citizens--suggests that there may well be a small breeding population of the species in Michigan.


In 1984, while hunting on the Patowachie-Hannaville Indian Reservation fifteen miles west of the town of Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a Native American hunter spotted a mountain lion (Puma concolor)--also known as cougar or puma--while trying to spook some deer. The man quickly lifted his rifle and fired, wounding the cat, which responded by leaping ten feet into the air, and then running off with one leg flopping (Zuidema 1999). The hunter discovered bone fragments from the right front paw and proceeded to track the cat in light snow into a bog full of leatherleaf shrubs (Zuidema 1999). He collected the bone fragments and gave them to wildlife officials. Michael Zuidema, a retired Forester from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), sent the bone samples to a wildlife lab at Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Fort Collins, where high resolution electrophoresis determined it was indeed from a mountain lion (Zuidema 1999).

The mountain lion was originally part of Michigan's native fauna, at the top of the food chain with the black bear (Ursus americanus), the wolf (Canis lupus), and the wolverine (Gulo gulo). By the late 1800s, however, only a few of the felids still survived in remote recesses of the Upper Peninsula (UP) (Zuidema 1999). The last recorded cougar killed in Michigan was in the UP in December of 1906, near the Tahquamenon River, in Luce County (Zuidema 1999).

By the early 1900s the species was listed as extirpated in Michigan (Manville 1948). It seems clear, though, that the Tahquamenon cat was not the last of its kind in the UP, or even the Lower Peninsula. Since the 1920s, there has been a steady stream of reports of the big cats, mostly dismissed by DNR officials (Zuidema 2000, pers. comm.). There are several reliable records of people seeing pumas in the late 1930s and early 1940s, including one documented record of a cougar from the Huron Mountains of Marquette County in 1937 (Manville 1948).

Credible sightings of the felids also date from the 1960s to the present. From 1962 to 1992 there were valid reports of cougars from every county in the UP except for Keweenaw (Evers 1994). Many of those reports, though, were not verified by DNR officials (Minzey 2000, pers. comm.)....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A87426651