The St. Croix Cougar reaches the end of its journey

29 Jul

It’s not common to find a cougar in Wisconsin.  It’s almost unimaginable to track one through Wisconsin on his way across the continent.  This week the journey of the “Saint Croix Cougar” came to a sad end.  The cougar was found hit by a car on a highway near Milford, Connecticut.

A cougar caught on a night camera. Photo credit - Not Me! From WDNR.

The Saint Croix Cougar was so-named when he crossed over from Minnesota and showed up in Saint Croix county, Wisconsin, back in 2009.  Wildlife biologists tracked the animal through reports of paw prints and images on wildlife cameras. They collected hair and feces samples to help positively identify the cougar.  Over the next year the Saint Croix Cougar made his way across Wisconsin and was last recorded near the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in May 2010.

The St Croix Cougar caught on a wildlife camera. Photo credit - Not Me! From WQOW News.

Now, the cougar seems to have run out of luck, and land, he made it all the way to the east coast before being hit by car on a Connecticut highway.  As the crow flies this puts the Saint Croix Cougar over 1,100 miles from where he was first seen near Minneapolis!  And certainly he didn’t swim across the great lakes.  A quick Google Map suggests that the shortest route over the U.P. and north of the lakes would have taken the cougar at least 1,400 miles!  This is an amazing animal migration.  We can only speculate what would have driven this big cat to keep going all those miles.  Could he not find suitable habitat somewhere in the wilds of southern Ontario?  Was he searching for just the right lady-cougar?  Was his trip augmented by human-assisted relocation at any point?  Are changing climates and landscape making long-range animal movements more likely?

My Google Map guestimate at a travel route the St Croix Cougar could have taken from MN to CT.

How, you may ask, do we even know this is the same cougar?  Remember those hair and fecal samples Wisconsin biologists collected?  Well, biologists in Connecticut also sampled some tissue from the cat and sent it in to the same lab for genetic testing.  A DNA test (much like the DNA fingerprinting you see on something like a who’s-your-daddy episode of Jerry Springer, or the crime scene evidence that nabs a killer on CSI) confirmed that the cougar in Connecticut was, indeed, the Saint Croix Cougar.  The wonders of lab technology help us understand the wonders of wildlife biology!

For more, check out the WORT news broadcast in which Wisconsin DNR biologist, Adrian Wydeven, tells me about  The journey of the Saint Croix Cougar


One Response to “The St. Croix Cougar reaches the end of its journey”

  1. BioGirl August 1, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    Good one! I didn’t know he spent an year in WI. Yay to the convergence of lab and field work 🙂

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