Great Lakes Cougar State
By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter
Except for one in Michigan’s thumb in the early 2000s, wolverines have not been seen in Michigan for 200 years. However, cougar sightings have been increasing, possibly making the Wolverine State more of a Great Lakes Cougar State.
Thus far, in 2021, Michigan has had ten confirmed cougar sightings. Rest easy. They were all in the Upper Peninsula. The most recent confirmed sighting, on September 16, was from a trail camera in Dickinson County.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) reports that since 2008, there have been 74 confirmed in Michigan. This number does not mean 74 predatory big cats are prowling the wilds of Michigan’s wonderland. A single animal can have its photo taken more than once. MDNR states that “Trail cams and home security cams account for many of the photos we receive, and the prevalence of those devices probably explains why sightings are up.”
Cougars were originally native to Michigan, but they were wiped out from Michigan around the early 1900s. The increase in cougar sightings is not unique to Michigan but has been occurring in many other mid-western and eastern states, as young males disperse from primary range in the western United States.
Documented DNA evidence shows the big cats in Michigan’s U.P. could be transient or dispersing cougars from the nearest known breeding populations in North and South Dakota. These populations are over 900 miles from Michigan. The MDNR has no evidence confirmed of a breeding population of cougars in the U.P.
Adult cougars typically weigh between 90 and 180 lbs. with a body length of 5-6 feet from nose to base of the tail. Cougars prefer to be active at night, although they can be out during the day. They are solitary animals that like to ambush their prey from cover. Their life span is 8 to 12 years. Cougars preferred game is deer but are opportunistic predators occasionally taking young moose, livestock, and pets. Cougars kill their prey with a bite to the neck, several the spinal column.
The odds of encountering a cougar in the wild are minuscule, and attacks are extremely rare. The MDNR offers the following advice should you ever encounter a cougar:
- Face the animal and do not act submissive. Stand tall, wave your arms, and talk in a loud voice.
- Never run from a cougar or other large carnivore. If children are present, pick them up so they cannot run.
- If attacked, fight back with whatever is available. DO NOT play dead.
- Report the encounter to local authorities and the DNR as soon as possible.
Since the cougars have not yet crossed the “Mighty Mac” into the Lower Peninsula, Michigan doesn’t seem to be in danger of becoming the “Great Lakes Cougar State” anytime soon. But there was that 2017 confirmed sighting in Clinton County, just north of Lansing.
Photo: “This cougar clearly did not skip leg day.” Photo was taken Sept. 16 in Dickenson County. Courtesy of MDNR.