DNR investigating Mower County cougar sighting

Published 7:02 am Friday, May 9, 2014

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is investigating a potential cougar sighting in Mower County.

A resident reported sighting a cougar Thursday morning in Udolpho Township in the northwest corner of the county.

Sheriff Terese Amazi confirmed a resident reported the sighting and even gave photos to her office, which are being sent to the DNR.

Email newsletter signup

“It shows a big cat,” Amazi said of the photos.

Jeanine Vorland, area wildlife supervisor for Mower, Rice, Steele, Dodge, Freeborn and Waseca, counties said her office is investigating the sighting in Mower County, and while it couldn’t be confirmed, she said there is some positive evidence of a cougar. As of this morning, she had not seen the photos.

“I’m looking forward to these pictures,” Vorland said.

DNR officials, albeit in a different office, have also been investigating sightings and a report of a cougar attacking a dog in Olmsted County.

Cougar sightings are rare but not unheard of.

“We’ve been seeing more cougars in the Midwest over the last 15 years,” Vorland said.

In 2011, rural Austin residents suspected a cougar attacked a horse, but the DNR could not confirm the report. From 2004 to 2011, the DNR reported 15 verified sightings, which didn’t count  unverified sightings.

According the DNR, there are no known breeding populations in Minnesota and the closest breeding population is near the Black Hills in South Dakota. However, cougars are indigenous to Minnesota and were once one of the most wide-spread mammals in North America before European settlers arrived, according to Vorland.

“They’re reoccupying former range or at least passing through and seeing what it looks like,” Vorland said.

Some people keep cougars as pets, so Vorland said some sightings are from former pets that got loose. Other sightings are young males known for traveling long distances.

“Some of them go for very long walks,” she said.

If the sighting was indeed a cougar, Vorland said it’s likely already moved on, and cougars are shy and often difficult to spot.

“It’s kind of like trying to find a ghost,” she said.

Cougars — also called mountain lions or pumas — range from about 70 to 100 pounds — about the size of a large Labrador. Vorland said people commonly mistake Labradors for cougars, but a tell-tale sign is the tail, as cougars’ tails are very long  — nearly the length of their body.

“They’re a pretty good sized animal,” Vorland said.

Though typically shy around humans, cougars can harm livestock or domestic animals from time to time, and Amazi said they’ll cause about the same amount of damage as a coyote.

Cougar attacks and even sightings are uncommon, as Vorland said the animals typically prey on deer or wild rabbits.

Vorland encouraged people always practice good stewardship as animal and pet owners, as there are always animals like coyotes, foxes, owls and other predators around.

Vorland encouraged people to report cougar footprints, pictures or a credible sitings by contacting her office at 507-455-5841 or info.dnr@state.mn.us.

Cougars are a protected species, so they may only be killed by a licensed peace officer or authorized permit holder.

Click here to learn more about cougars.