Michigan Cougar Confirmation? Leelanau photos seem to say "Yes"

Michigan Cougar Confirmation? Leelanau photos seem to say "Yes"

The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy has released results of an investigation that appears to validate a cougar presence in Michigan. The apparent cougar was photographed near the south shore of Glen Lake in Leelanau County:

On Labor Day, September 7, 2009 Dr. Jerome Wiater and his adult son, Christian, observed what they believed to be a cougar (mountain lion) at about 3:30 p.m. on a clear, sunny day. The sighting was along County Road 675 near its intersection with County Road 616. Dr. Wiater, an orthopedic surgeon (MD) residing in Bingham Farms, Michigan, was walking to Glen Lake with a camera in hand, planning to water ski. He and Christian (who was nearby) were startled to see a large, long-tailed cat they believed was about the size of a big dog. Dr. Wiater snapped two photos of the animal—one when it was in shade and the other when the animal was walking in a shallow roadside depression through a more sunny spot approximately 209 feet away.

The site is adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore where the National Park Service has had “cougar warning” signs at its trailheads since fall of 2003. Dr. Patrick Rusz, director of wildlife programs for the Wildlife Conservancy, took measurements and photos of objects of known size at the site and analyzed the photos in consultation with forensic photography experts. His conclusion is that the animal had the profile (llikely more than 30 inches long) and coloration of a cougar and was too large to be a house cat.

“Both Jerome and Christian Wiater stated that the animal they observed was about the same size as their pet hound,” noted Dr. Rusz. “Based on my analysis, it may have been slightly smaller than the dog, but was definitely the size of a small cougar. The Wiater photos, along with decades of sighting reports and tracks found in the same general area during the past 9 years, provide compelling evidence of the presence of cougars in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore area.”

Click the photo above to see it bigger or head over to Flickr. You can also see  Rusz’s full report and see the larger photos at the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy and read more about Michigan cougars at Absolute Michigan.



10 replies
  1. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    From wikipedia: “Cougars are slender and agile cats. Adults stand about 60 to 76 centimeters (2.0 to 2.5 ft) tall at the shoulders. The length of adult males is around 2.4 meters (8 ft) long nose to tail, with overall ranges between 1.5 and 2.75 m (5 and 9 ft) nose to tail suggested for the species in general.[16][17] Males typically weigh 53 to 90 kilograms (115 to 198 pounds), averaging 62 kg (137 lb). In rare cases, some may reach over 120 kg (264 lb). Females typically weigh between 29 and 64 kg (64 and 141 lb), averaging 42 kg (93 lb).[18][19][20] Cougar size is smallest close to the equator, and larger towards the poles.[3]”

    This is a house cat. House cats have been recorded to up to 3 feet not including tail, while cougars are at least 5 feet at adulthood, and the animal in the photo clearly has the proportions of an adult. Natural history also dictates that young cougars stay with parents for 2 years before dispersing. Note also the stripes on the side and the gray-to-brown gradient like a gray tabby. Note also the size of the flower heads and trees in the background and how they dwarf the animal. You also must take their measurements with a grain of salt because you’re basically taking their word for it. Anyone who has studied the natural history and wildlife of Michigan, or seen a cougar in person would know that this is a house cat and these people are pulling the wool over your eyes.

    The DNR website indicates that samples have been proven in the Upper Peninsula but that nothing has been found in Northern Lower Michigan. If there were a singular cougar, it would be an escaped pet, as it is highly unlikely that a cougar would travel the 900 miles from North Dakota and climb all the way up to Traverse City from downstate, let alone cross Lake Michigan. However, the size indicates that this particular photo is indeed a house cat.

    Naturalist in the Upper Peninsula- with Carnivore Ecology training

  2. Joann Keyes
    Joann Keyes says:

    If that is not a big cat(aka wild/cougar), someone has been breeding some very big house cats! And I would think that they would not be out wandering, with hunting season being very close. And I have never seen a feral cat looking so well fed. So, still up to speculation, I think that we have a new community member in Leelanau County!

  3. Lorrie Simmons
    Lorrie Simmons says:

    I know vineyard and farm owners North of Leland and Suttons Bay who have often seen Cougars around the farms. It is not a myth. They are around.

  4. farlane
    farlane says:

    From John Flesher of the Traverse City Record-Eagle:

    State wildlife officials say they’ve confirmed the sighting of a cougar in Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula.
    The Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday it had determined that a trail camera in Chippewa County snapped a photo of a cougar wandering by one night last month.
    Also, the DNR said it had verified two sets of cougar tracks found recently in the U.P. One was spotted near DeTour in late October and the other this week near Gulliver in Schoolcraft County

    View the Cougar photo in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

    • Andrew McFarlane
      Andrew McFarlane says:

      While I have no idea if this photo is valid, there are a number of cougar sightings from the Leelanau Peninsula. I know a few people who have seen them, and their description leaves no doubt in my mind.

      Speaking of cougars, the DNR just released a photo of a confirmed cougar in the UP. From State says cougars are here, but only in UP in the Freep:

      A flash of a cougar’s hindquarters and distinctive tail was all that showed up on the film, but it was enough to confirm to state wildlife officials another cougar in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

      A midnight photo snapped May 26 near Wallace in Menominee County is the first state-confirmed sighting of a cougar in that county. In the past two years, cougar experts for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment confirmed five sets of cougar tracks and one other photo in Delta, Chippewa and Marquette counties.

      For years, the existence of cougars has been a point of dispute between citizens who say they’ve seen them and wildlife officials, who have, until lately, said the animals people saw were not cougars. The last wild cougar in Michigan is said to have been killed in the Upper Peninsula in 1906.

      Now the state acknowledges they’re here, but only in the U.P., and says there is no evidence there’s a breeding population.

      “We’re not trying to hide anything,” said Kristie Sitar, a state wildlife biologist trained to identify cougars. “What this means is just that we have some of these animals running around in the state.”

  5. Kate Wickstrom
    Kate Wickstrom says:

    I live on Old Mission Peninsula and this past winter had a huge cougar walk through my yard – it was right at dawn. Later that morning, I went out and checked the tracks in the snow. I contacted the Wildlife Conservency who sent someone to take pictures, measure the prints, etc. They told me that over 40,000 sitings have been reported in the state over the past 10 years and as far south as the Jackson area. You might want to contact the Conservency and report it – they will want pictures if you have one and will have you complete some forms.

  6. Susan
    Susan says:

    Nice to see cougar’s 4 and two legged kind making news.. sure beats hearing about Likorat’s. Ahhh a refereshing week, no sign of such rats.

  7. Jack Hartman
    Jack Hartman says:

    One night, just before sundown in the summer of 2000, my wife and I were driving into Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on our way to visit friends at Glen Lake. As we came around a curve, a large animal came bounding across the road in front of us at a range of about 75 feet. At first, we thought it was a big dog but within seconds realized that it was a cougar. We lived in South Africa and Kenya and have seen scores of lions as well as cheetah and leopard on the many safaris we’ve taken so we know what a big cat looks like. The only thing that fooled us at first was the color as it appeared chocolate. It was only later when watching a wildlife film on cougars that I realized they look chocolate in the shade and light brown in the sunlight. Five years later I stopped by the Ranger station at Sleeping Bear and asked them when they had confirmed cougars in Sleeping Bear Dunes and they said it had been five years earlier, exactly when we made our sighting. I can’t believe the presence of cougars in Sleeping Bear is still in question.

    Now, here’s what I found last Thursday while hiking in Saugatuck Dunes State Park. It was hours after a rainfall, so animal tracks were clear in the sand and there weren’t any human or dog tracks to confuse the trail. There was a trail of cat tracks, either cougar or bobcat, that ran about 200 yards along the North Trail in parallel with a set of deer tracks until both sets of prints disappeared into the woods. I checked the measurements of both bobcats and cougars on a website today and unless my recollection is way off base, the tracks I saw were way too large to be a bobcat.

    J. Hartman

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