DNR: Wisconsin’s “St. Croix Cougar” killed in Connecticut

By: WEAU 13 News Staff Email
By: WEAU 13 News Staff Email

(WEAU) - A cougar that made headlines in Western Wisconsin set a record for how far it traveled.

The Wisconsin DNR says in 2009, the cougar was spotted in St. Croix County and Dunn County. It was hit and killed by a car June 11th, in Connecticut. Biologists say that's more than 1000 miles away, and is one of the longest tracks recorded for a mammal.

In new video from the DNR, it says a farmer caught the cougar on tape eating a deer in a corn field. The DNR says the cougar likely grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Biologists in Connecticut say they were quite surprised to see the big cat there.

Ed Culhane with the DNR said "They thought it was a capture and release cougar because they couldn't imagine how it could show up there because the nearest breading populations are nearly a 1,000 miles away."

Culhane says the longest known trip a cougar made before this was about 650 miles. He says the DNR confirmed it was the same cougar using DNA collected while the animal made it’s way through the state.

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) -- State wildlife officials say DNA tests show a cougar that roamed Minnesota and Wisconsin was killed in a car crash in Connecticut last month.

The animal was killed June 11 near Milford, Conn. It was first detected by police in Champlin, Minn., in December 2009. Biologists used trail camera photos, tracks and DNA tests on biological samples such as scat and hair to determine it crossed the St. Croix River into Wisconsin and wandered across the state into Michigan's Upper Peninsula during the spring of 2010.

The cougar would have traveled 1,055 miles in a straight line, a new record for movement of a known cougar. However, biologists believe it walked between 1,600 and 1,800 miles, traveling through Canada and down through New York into Connecticut.
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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- A mountain lion killed on a Connecticut highway last month apparently had walked halfway across the country from South Dakota.

Connecticut environmental officials said Tuesday the 1,500-mile journey was one of the longest ever recorded for a land mammal. They said the animal originated in the Black Hills region of South Dakota and was tracked by DNA from its hair and droppings as it passed through Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2009 and 2010.

It was the first confirmed wild mountain lion in Connecticut in more than 100 years.

The lean, 140-pound male was killed by a car in the New Haven suburb of Milford on June 11. Tests determined the cat was likely the same one that had been seen earlier in Greenwich, about 30 miles from New York City

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NEWS RELEASE – One of four different cougars confirmed to have visited Wisconsin – this one dubbed the “Twin Cities Cougar” or the “St. Croix Cougar” – was killed by a vehicle six weeks ago on a busy highway in Connecticut, wildlife officials said today.

From Champlin, Minn., where it was first detected by police on Dec. 5, 2009, to the June 11 accident site near Milford, Conn., is 1,055 miles as the crow flies. This represents a new record for straight-line movement of a known cougar, said wildlife biologist Adrian Wydeven of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“It’s one of those amazing animal stories,” Wydeven said today. “It shows the potential some of these animals have for moving across the landscape.”

Given that this young male cougar almost certainly originated from the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the fact that it had to circumvent the Great Lakes, the actual distance traveled is closer to 1,600 miles, Wydeven said.

“This probably represents one of the longest movements ever recorded for a terrestrial mammal,” Wydeven said.

This is the best documented of the four separate cougars known to have visited Wisconsin.

Wisconsin DNR wildlife biologists Harvey Halvorsen and Jess Carstens tracked this cougar through St. Croix and Dunn counties after it crossed the St. Croix River into Wisconsin in mid December 2009. They were able to collect biological samples and DNA tests confirmed this to be the “Twin Cities Cougar.”

Based on tracks and other evidence, biologists believe the same cougar passed by the City of Eau Claire, entered Clark County to the east and then turned north. On Feb. 15, 2010, Wydeven followed cougar tracks in Bayfield County, south of Cable, and obtained a scat sample for DNA analysis, eventually learning that this was the same cougar tracked in St. Croix and Dunn counties.

This was the last DNA evidence, but it was tracked in that area again on Feb. 27, 2010. Then on May 20, 2010, a trail camera photographed a young cougar in Oconto County, and six days later a trail camera in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula photographed what biologists believe to be the same animal.

In Connecticut, the mere presence of a cougar created a sensation. The nearest known breeding populations of cougar are in Florida and the Black Hills of South Dakota, each more than 1,000 miles away. Since the longest recorded movement of a dispersing male cougar was previously 663 miles, from the Black Hills to Oklahoma, biologists concluded that the cougar killed by a motorist in a highly developed part of the state was most likely a captive cougar that had been released.

This was the first confirmed incidence of a cougar in Connecticut in modern times, although some scat collected six days before the crash has now been confirmed as cougar, and both the location and DNA tests suggest it’s from the same cougar.

“It’s a topic of high public interest,” said wildlife biologist Paul Rego of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “This was the first time we have confirmed the presence of a cougar.”

In Connecticut, as in many states across the country where there is no evidence of cougars, there have nevertheless been a steady stream of cougar sightings that date back decades. Those reporting the sightings have been frustrated by the state’s refusal to confirm the presence of cougars, Rego said, but as in Wisconsin, the science-based agency is limited to reporting what it can prove.

Since the June 11 accident, the number of sightings has increased dramatically, Rego said. One of those sightings proved to be a dead deer. Another was a dead house cat. Purported video of a cougar turned out to be video of a dog.

Rego pointed out that this cougar was sighted, photographed and tracked on numerous occasions in Wisconsin in just a three month period. He believes the cougar only recently entered Connecticut, possibly from the Adirondack region of northern New York State. Connecticut is a highly developed state and it seems unlikely a cougar could remain undetected for long, he said.

Rego and Wydeven believe the most likely route followed by the cougar took it through the Upper Peninsula and into Ontario, Canada, where it circled the Great Lakes to the north, eventually crossing into New York and then Connecticut.

A necropsy revealed that the cougar was in near perfect condition before it was struck by the car. This was confusing before it was revealed to be a wild cougar.

“It was in good shape, almost athletic,” Rego said.

Wydeven said when he first heard about the crash in Connecticut, he called a biologist colleague there and asked that biological samples be sent to the same lab in Missoula. He was looking for connections, but he did not suspect this was one of the Wisconsin visitors.

“”I was totally surprised by that,” Wydeven said. “It shows the potential some of these animals have for moving across the landscape.”

More information about cougars in Wisconsin can be found on the DNR website.


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