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has any 1 seen the video of the cougers caught on video in a monroe county field Story is on the front page of the freepress

Big cats back on the prowl

Extinct? Maybe not; 2 seen in Monroe field
July 27, 2004

BY ERIC SHARP
FREE PRESS OUTDOORSWRITER

Sightings of cougars, once considered extinct in Michigan, took a fresh turn Monday when the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy released a video of what appears to be two of the big cats in a Monroe County field.

The video was made by county resident Carol Stokes at a location only a few miles from where a State Police officer, an animal control officer and several other people reported seeing a cougar last summer. Stokes asked that the location not be disclosed.

The tape seems to show two large, tawny cougars standing at the edge of a tree line.

A large tree is prominent in the video near the cats, and Stokes later videotaped deer and her husband, John, standing in the same place.

Dennis Fijalkowski, director of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, sent the tape to a video analysis expert, who compared the relative sizes of the deer, the man and the cougars.

"His conclusion is that the bigger cat is about 6 1/2 feet long, and the smaller one is about 5 1/2 feet," Fijalkowski said.

The lengths include the tails. The larger cougar is estimated to weigh 100 to 150 pounds; the smaller cat likely weighs 80 to 100 pounds.

"Based on the size and color, they couldn't be anything else but cougars," Fijalkowski said. "And because cougars are solitary except for females with young, it almost certainly shows a mother and her nearly grown cub."

Fijalkowsi said the Stokes tape is important because it suggests cougars are breeding in Michigan.

"You have a mother and her young, and that means there must be a male cougar out there, too,"he said.

Cougars, also called mountain lions, pumas, catamounts and panthers, were among Michigan's native wildlife when European settlers arrived. But the state Department of Natural Resources has insisted for more than 50 years that the last Michigan cougar was killed in the early 1900s.

For decades, metro Detroit residents have reported sightings of supposed cougars, panthers and even a tiger-lion mix called a liger, but have produced little physical evidence of big cats.

The increasing number of cougar sightings, especially those from the Lower Peninsula, has brought the DNR close to acknowledging that Michigan might have a resident population of the wildcats.

"There's no doubt that we've got some in the state, and they may be breeding," said Ray Rustem, who heads the DNR's endangered species program.

But after viewing the Monroe County video, Rustem said he wants experts to rule out the possibility the animals could be other kinds of wildcats or that technical problems with the video made small animals seem larger.

"It's certainly an interesting video," Rustem said. "But we still have some questions."

Until recently, the DNR attributed cougar sightings in Michigan to mistaken identification of dogs, wolves or house cats; escaped or released captive cougars, which would not survive long, or wild cougars that wandered into the Upper Peninsula from Minnesota and Wisconsin but wouldn't stay in Michigan because they couldn't find mates.

In 2001, Patrick Rusz, the conservancy's wildlife biologist, studied reports of more than 800 Michigan cougar sightings over 20 years, which had been collected by Michael Zuidema, a retired DNR forester who lives near Escanaba. Rusz decided to see if he could locate wild cougars by looking at places where people had reported sightings for decades, which would indicate a breeding population.

Rusz went to an area of the south-central Upper Peninsula that had lots of sightings and large areas of swamps and beaches that were never developed or settled. Within days he had collected a number of unusual scats -- or animal feces -- that DNA analysis later determined were from cougars.

Since then, Rusz has collected scats from eight counties in the UP and the northern Lower Peninsula, which DNA analysis confirmed came from cougars. But the DNR hasn't accepted his conclusion that the scat evidence proves that the big cats were never really wiped out in Michigan and managed to maintain a small breeding population.

Wildlife agencies in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois also deny the existence of wild cougars, despite an increase of sightings from the states' residents.

Fijalkowski said he cannot understand why the DNR is being stubborn.

"This was the top predator in the state of Michigan, and now we have good evidence that they were never wiped out . . .," he said.
 

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The cougars are there, beleive it. And they have been here for awhile. The DNR always try to down play the situation for fear of the public reaction.
 
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