10 confirmed cougar sightings in 2021


The Michigan DNR has confirmed 10 cougar sightings in 2021, all in the Upper Peninsula, continuing an upward trend in sightings in recent years.

The most recent confirmed sighting was in Dickinson County, where a trail camera image captured a cougar walking through a forest area.

“On September 16, 2021, a trail camera photo was taken of a cougar in southern Dickinson County,” said Cody Norton, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist. “It’s about 50 miles from where a July 20 video was captured in Baraga County.”

The DNR team of biologists investigating the cougars’ reports had seen the photo but were initially unable to confirm the source or location where it was taken. The team was able to investigate the report after the owner of the photo saw a newspaper article about it and contacted the DNR.

This last confirmation leads to 74 in Michigan since 2008. That figure doesn’t necessarily translate to the same number of cougars because a single animal may be included in more than one confirmed report, the DNR said.

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So far this year, 10 reports of cougars have been confirmed in the UP, including three from Dickinson County, two from Marquette County and one each from Baraga, Delta, Houghton, Luce and Schoolcraft counties.

This year continues a three-year trend in the highest number of confirmed cougar reports in the past 14 years. The previous record of seven confirmations in a single year was surpassed in 2019 when 11 reports were registered, followed by 15 in 2020.

Norton said the increased use of surveillance cameras by the public could help increase the number of cougar reports. (Check out the full list of cougar sightings in 2021 here)

From 2018: Cougar captured by DNR camera in Michigan’s upper peninsula

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The Michigan species is listed as Endangered and is protected by state law. The DNR has a ton of information on cougars in the state. Let’s take a look at some common questions.

Is there a population of wild cougars in Michigan?

Pumas, also known as pumas, were originally from Michigan, but disappeared from Michigan around the turn of the century. The last known legally captured wild cougar in the state occurred in 1906 near Newberry.

Since then, periodic sightings of cougars have been reported from various locations in Michigan. This situation is not unique to Michigan and has occurred in many other states in the Midwest and East as well.

If the cougars are here, where are they from?

Based on documented evidence, cougars sighted in Michigan could be escaped or released pets. Or, it could be passing cougars or dispersal from known breeding populations closest to North Dakota and South Dakota. These populations are found more than 900 miles from Michigan.

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The National Park Service has conducted road and trail surveys and trail camera surveillance in the past designed to detect cougars in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. No traces of cougars were found.

Are there any pet cougars or exotic big cats like leopards and African lions in Michigan?

A few people who owned cougars or large cats before 2000 are still allowed to own these animals. It has been illegal to own a cougar or large exotic cats such as African lions, leopards and jaguars in Michigan since 2000. No new permits are issued.

The DNR occasionally receives reports of large illegally held pet cats, including cougars, and has confiscated these animals. It is possible that escaped or released pet cougars account for at least some of the sightings in Michigan.

What should I do if I meet a cougar? What do they look like?

The cougar typically weighs between 90 and 180 lbs, with a few large males exceeding 200 lbs. Cougars are beige to brown. Adult cougars have a body length of around 5-6 feet long from nose to base of tail. The tail is long and thick with a black tip. The head is relatively small compared to the body. Cougars are primarily nocturnal, although they can be active during the day.

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The chances of encountering a cougar in the wild are very low and attacks are extremely rare. If you meet a cougar:

  • Face the animal and do not act in a submissive manner. Stand up straight, wave your arms, and speak out loud.

  • Never run away from a cougar or other large carnivore. If children are present, pick them up so they cannot run.

  • In the event of an attack, retaliate with whatever is available. DO NOT play dead.

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