A Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection staff member examining the dead mountain lion at the Sessions Woods Wildlife Center in Burlington, Connecticut
Science News came up with some more information on the mountain lion killed in Milford on Connecticut’s Wilbur Cross Parkway in June.
[H]air and fecal matter [from the exactly same cougar] had been collected more than a year earlier by biologists tracking the Connecticut-bound cougar across Wisconsin. First spotted in Champlin, Minn., in December 2009, biologists tracked him as he zig-zagged through Wisconsin, leaving behind a trail of paw prints, hair and poop.
Even in Wisconsin â€” with its bears and wolves â€” cougars are unexpected visitors, says mammalian ecologist Adrian Wydeven of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Park Falls.
There have been only four confirmed cougars in that state since 2008, so when the traveling cougar appeared, Wydeven and his team kept a watchful eye on his movements. From December 2009 through late spring 2010 they haunted the catâ€™s trail, collecting samples and sending them to the lab. In December, a trail camera captured a cougar prowling through the evening snow near an area where hair had been sampled earlier, providing scientists with a glimpse of the cat.
Then, after another trailside portrait in May 2010, the cat disappeared.
The next time he appeared was more than a year later and a half-continent away, just a few miles from the Connecticut shore. Scientists donâ€™t know much about the catâ€™s journey between Wisconsin and Connecticut, but wildlife biologist Clayton Nielsen of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale speculates the cat probably crossed Michiganâ€™s Upper Peninsula, then wound his way down through New York. â€œThereâ€™s no real way of knowing,â€ he says. â€œBut going south through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio â€” thatâ€™s very poor habitat, with a high likelihood that people would see the animal.â€
Nielsen, who is studying cougars in the Midwest, says while roaming young males are increasing in the area, there are still no known breeding populations east of the Black Hills, except for an endangered group of less than 100 in and around the Florida Everglades. Scientists hypothesize that the Connecticut cat was wandering in search of food and a mate â€” but since he didnâ€™t find a mate, he kept on moving. Female cougars donâ€™t travel nearly as far as males, which limits the establishment of new breeding populations. But, Nielsen hypothesizes, if a few females made similar journeys, itâ€™s plausible that a cougar population could re-establish itself farther east.
David Baron wrote a kind of obituary for the Connecticut cougar in the form of a New York Times editorial, provocatively titled The Cougar Behind Your Trash Can:
Thanks to the South Dakota cat and its incredible journey, residents of the Eastern United States can now experience the fear and thrill that come with living below the top of the food chain. America has grown a bit less tame.
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.