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What should you do if you spot a cougar?

Editor's note: The Echo Press recently received a third report of a cougar sighting in the area. The most recent sighting was in the Forada area. Two other sightings, late last fall and again this winter, were reported in the Osakis area. Last Th...

Cougar
This cougar was reportedly treed by coyote hunters in the Forada area around March 20. This is reportedly the third time a cougar sighting has been reported in the Alexandria area. (Photo by Duane Tvrdik. Contributed by Sonya Anderson.)

Editor's note: The Echo Press recently received a third report of a cougar sighting in the area. The most recent sighting was in the Forada area. Two other sightings, late last fall and again this winter, were reported in the Osakis area. Last Thursday, Kevin Kotts, DNR Glenwood area wildlife supervisor, submitted the following information about the rare cougar sightings.

Over the past several years, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has verified cougar sightings in Minnesota, often the result of trail cameras used by hunters in the fall. The recent sightings in the Alexandria area over the past couple of months have created concerns from area residents about their safety and the safety of pets and livestock. The sightings have also heightened the interest of those who want to learn more about this elusive cat.

As the Glenwood area wildlife supervisor, I've recently been involved in investigating reports from local coyote hunters who treed a cougar several times with their dogs while coyote hunting south of Alexandria. The first occurrence was in January, near Osakis, and more recently near Forada on March 20. It is likely the same cougar being treed in the area.

Cougars are shy, solitary and secretive animals that usually travel and hunt at night. They can travel long distances and have large home ranges, from 25 to 200 square miles. Due to these habits, many people in the western states, where cougars are abundant, will tell you they've never seen a cougar in the wild.

Young cougars, particularly males, will travel great distances from their birth areas to find a suitable home range. Females typically remain closer to where they were born. This may explain why, to date, there have been no wild females documented in Minnesota.

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Cougars are predators and their primary prey is deer. In places where they occur, they also feed on wild sheep, elk, rabbits, beaver, raccoons and grouse. It is unusual for cougars to prey on adult livestock.

Human encounters with cougars are extremely rare. Even in California, which has a cougar population of more than 5,000 of the big cats, a person is 1,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a cougar. Most cougars will avoid confrontation. If an encounter does take place, how you react will largely determine the outcome of the situation. Here are some basic tips if you encounter or live near an area where a cougar has been sighted (these tips also apply to wolves, coyotes and bears):

--Stay calm, face the animal, make yourself appear large by opening your coat or putting your hands above your head, and speak in a loud voice.

--Don't allow your pets to run at large. Your dog or cat can easily become prey.

--Protect your livestock, when possible, by bringing them into a barn at night.

--Do not feed wildlife, especially deer. If you attract them to your home, you could be attracting any large predator.

Local citizens are encouraged to help the DNR track cougar sightings. Anyone who believes they have seen a cougar is asked to gather as much information as possible before contacting the DNR. We will want to know specifically where and when the sighting took place and whether any identifying sign was left by the animal, including tracks, hair or scat. Photos and video are extremely helpful.

If an animal is suspected to have been killed or attacked by a cougar, it should be reported to a conservation officer or wildlife manager in your area to document the incident and to help determine management solutions.

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Keep in mind that cougars are a protected wild animal in Minnesota. There is no open season. It is illegal to intentionally take a cougar. Taking includes killing, pursuing with dogs, chasing or harassing. A licensed peace officer may, at any time, take any protected wild animal that is posing an immediate threat to public safety.

My job as area wildlife supervisor is to manage wildlife and inform and educate people about wildlife. Historically, cougars were common throughout the United States, so it's not unreasonable to find them appearing in Minnesota as their populations continue to grow in the western states. Learning more about cougars and ways to coexist with any predator is more practical than removing a cougar for simply going about its business. The DNR will continue to gather information about cougar observations in the area and use this information to inform the public and increase our understanding of cougars in Minnesota.

For more information on cougars, visit www.mndnr.gov/cougar .

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