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Rare Minnesota cougar killed crossing suburban highway

Cougars drop by our state from time to time, but they prefer to stay out of sight.

Cougars drop by our state from time to time, but they prefer to stay out of sight. Twitter

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced it had found and taken possession of the body of a cougar.

The late big cat was hit while attempting to cross the road that morning in Bloomington, near the intersection of I-494 and 35W. A necropsy – the animal version of an autopsy – was in order. The department posted a photo of what appeared to be the animal’s front paws, which were almost as big as the adult human hand holding them.

The cougar was reportedly male and weighed 115 pounds.

It’s always sad to see the incidental death of a wild animal. It’s sadder still to see the death of one so rarely seen by people at all, especially in this state.

As it happens, earlier this month, the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department caught a photo of what appeared to be a juvenile cougar hanging just north of Dodge Center and advised folks to steer clear. A resident reported that it didn’t seem “scared” of them, but didn’t seem interested in approaching, either.

 
 
 
 
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COUGAR SIGHTED TODAY NORTH OF DODGE CENTER (attached it a picture taken by one of our deputies today) Dodge County Deputies responded to a report of a cougar sighting this afternoon - north of Dodge Center just south of 620th Street (CR R) and just east of 190th Ave (CR 7). An area resident explained that they observed the cougar coming in and out of the tree line near their property. They said the cougar knew they were there watching, didn’t seem scared of them, but didn’t seem interested in approaching them either. The picture attached is one our deputies took of the cougar when they responded. A Conservation Officer from the DNR also responded to the scene to document the sighting. They believe the cougar may be one to two years old. The DNR believes this cougar is likely not a public safety threat. Just to err on the side of caution, we would advise people in the area to be careful with pets and young children being left unattended outside. If you see the cougar, DO NOT approach it. If you are safely able to photograph it, take a photograph and report your sighting to the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office at 507-635-6200. We will be documenting sightings ad forwarding to the DNR. For more information on Cougars in Minnesota, regulations related to cougars, and restrictions, click on the following DNR link: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/cougar/index.html

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That tracks. There are speculative news stories about mysterious, unverifiable cougar sightings every year, but very few of them end up being confirmed. Minnesota's had about 30 such occurrences between 2004 and 2018, pretty evenly scattered across the state.

“Many observations from trail cameras and tracks turn out to be cases of mistaken identity,” the DNR’s website says. Alleged cougars turn out to be bobcats, coyotes, fishers – even the occasional buff housecat.

When a cougar sighting is verified, it’s like having a minor celebrity roaming around on foot through entire corners of the state. Back in the winter of 2009, a six-foot-long specimen said to be wandering the eastern St. Paul suburbs was the talk of the town for weeks. In the summer of 2010, it popped up again in Wisconsin, looking for a mate. (Yes, it was continuously tracked across state lines).

But generally, they tend to stay out of sight. Most of these big cats are just passing through – traveling alone, mostly at night, into our neck of the woods from the western Dakotas. The DNR has found “no evidence” of a resident breeding population.

Even in California, which is home to some 5,000 or so resident cougars, a person, the DNR claims, is 1,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by one.