Cougar sightings likely to become more common in urban areas

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A roaming 150-pound cougar shot and killed by police on Chicago’s north side last month, while rare, may become a signal of more frequent cougar appearances as populations rebound and the animals seek to expand their range.

Cougars have been migrating eastward over a period of years from the Black Hills and Western states, increasing the likelihood there will be more sightings in urban areas, said Lorraine Corriveau of the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine.

“People aren’t their prey,” Corriveau said. “For the most part, cougars don’t want to attack people, and they usually have somewhat of an aversion to people. The problem is that as they make a comeback from near extinction, they are moving into areas they have not been in for many years.”

The reason for the migration is the cougar’s nature. Young males stake out their own territories as they are pushed outside the boundaries of other cougar territories.

One cougar can migrate several hundred miles over time, she said. A cougar killed by a train near Red Rock, Okla., in 2004 was found wearing a tracking collar that had been attached 670 miles away in Wyoming.

Cougars are a threat to livestock and pets, she said, and cattle and deer often fall victim in cougar attacks. Cougars, also referred to as bobcats and pumas, tend to find their prey near forested areas or areas with underbrush.

Corriveau, a pet wellness clinician, said there are hundreds of reports of cougar sightings and attacks on animals annually. While there have only been 13 confirmed cougar attacks in California since 1890, nine of those attacks have occurred since 1992. Attacks also have been reported in recent years in Michigan.

Wildlife authorities track cougar migration so they can alert people in the areas, Corriveau said. Anyone sighting a cougar should report it to state wildlife agencies because gauging the size of cougars is a help to authorities, she said. Photographs of cougars with recognizable objects in the background can be a particular help in determining size. Cougars can weigh more than 100 pounds.

Cougars once were the most plentiful mammal in both North and South America, but settling both continents rapidly diminished the population. In states such as Oregon, cougars were virtually extinct by the 1960s. Since then, Oregon has adopted a cougar management plan to sustain a minimum population of 3,000. South Dakota has adopted a cougar hunting season to reduce its population because an estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of young males are leaving the Black Hills to seek out new territory.

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One Response to “Cougar sightings likely to become more common in urban areas”

  1. The Cougar Fund is a nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of the cougar through educating the public about the many issues surrounding cougars. With these efforts in mind, we would like to comment on the cougar story published here.

    The article mistakenly identified “bobcat” as an alternate name for cougars. The cougar, or puma concolor, and the bobcat are two very distinct animals. Alternate names for the cougar include mountain lion, puma, and catamount. Some key differences include the bobcat’s significantly smaller size, their color, and tail length.

    Additionally, while Dr. Corriveau’s comments were essentially correct and positive, the Cougar Fund was disappointed a biologist specializing in cougar behavior was not interviewed.

    While the article suggested that wildlife officials primarily track cougars to alert people in the area to their presence, cougars are generally tracked as a management tool, and because of their reclusive nature, alerting the public is rarely necessitated.

    Cougars are a self-regulating species. A single cougar requires a minimum of 50-100 square miles to breed, raise young, hunt and survive, however, that need for space does not necessarily mean cougars will continue to move eastward or into urban areas. Over-hunting has resulted in juvenile males being displaced, causing them to venture into areas traditionally avoided.

    Because cougars are an often misunderstood and misrepresented species, the Cougar Fund strives to ensure the integrity of information dispersed on the species in hopes of promoting a better understanding of the animal.

    Thank you,
    Emorie Broemel
    Communications Coordinator

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