Reports of cougar or mountain lion sightings seem to be showing up with more frequency in area newspapers, the latest being in the Pope County Tribune.
The sighting is the cause for some talk in Pope County, thanks to a photo the newspaper published of the animal. It was spotted in February by a group of coyote hunters with dogs. They came across it in a tree in a remote area. One of the hunters used his smartphone to capture a photo. While the DNR has not confirmed it as a cougar sighting, the Pope County Tribune reported that Kevin Kotts, a wildlife specialist with the Glenwood DNR office, visited the site and said he saw the tree where the photo was taken. There were no tracks or other evidence to be seen in the snow when he visited.
According to published reports, many wildlife experts believe that cougars are wandering east through Minnesota. The Black Hills cougar population is believed to be at or near its maximum, and the animals could be step-stoning outward to colonize new areas. The Minnesota DNR emphasizes that there is no evidence of a breeding population in this state.
It is also important to note that there is no way to know how many of these animals may be former “pets’’ that people let loose. That was believed to be the case when a cougar was captured in the heart of Willmar at the end of January in 2006.
And of course, it’s always difficult to know in the era of Photoshop and the Internet how many reports of mountain lions are hoaxes.
Yet thanks to smart phones and especially trail cameras, there is increasing evidence of the cougars moving through the area. In mid-October, there were two trail camera photos of what was believed to be a cougar making its way through Chippewa and Swift counties. There was at least one trail cam image of it taken near Wegdahl, which is on the Minnesota River between Montevideo and Granite Falls. Another report came four days later from the Chippewa River Valley in Swift County, and is believed to have been the same animal.
In Renville County, there have been reports of a cougar near Olivia during two different time spans in the last five years. One cougar is believed to have stayed around though much of the winter, and at one time was spotted crossing an open field on the west side of Olivia, where the new storm water retention pond has been built.
A couple of years earlier, a couple reported coming home late in their car and spotting what they believed was a cougar crossing the road ahead of them. It was in the same general area west of Olivia.