DEEP: Killed mountain lion originated in South Dakota, testing shows
Published: Tuesday, July 26, 2011; Last Updated: Tue. Jul 26, 2011, 3:27pm
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said today that results of genetic tests show that the mountain lion killed in Milford in June made its way to the state from the Black Hills region of South Dakota and is an animal whose movements were actually tracked and recorded as it made its way through Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Genetic tests also show that it is likely that the mountain lion killed when it was hit by a car June 11 on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford was the same one that had been seen earlier that month in Greenwich.
DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty said, “The journey of this mountain lion is a testament to the wonders of nature and the tenacity and adaptability of this species. This mountain lion traveled a distance of more than 1,500 miles from its original home in South Dakota – representing one of the longest movements ever recorded for a land mammal and nearly double the distance ever recorded for a dispersing mountain lion.”
“The confirmation of a wild mountain lion in our state was the first recorded in more than 100 years,” Esty said. “This is the first evidence of a mountain lion making its way to Connecticut from western states and there is still no evidence indicating that there is a native population of mountain lions in Connecticut.”
The genetic tests reveal information about the mountain lion’s origin and travels were conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Wildlife Genetics Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. DNA tests show that tissue from the Milford mountain lion matches the genetic structure of the mountain lion population in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.
The Forest Service lab also compared the Milford mountain lion’s DNA to DNA samples collected from individual animals occurring outside of the core South Dakota population. This led to a match with DNA collected from an animal whose movements were tracked in Minnesota and Wisconsin from late 2009 through early 2010. DNA from the Connecticut specimen exactly matched DNA collected from an individual mountain lion at one site in Minnesota and three sites in Wisconsin.
The Midwestern DNA samples were obtained by collecting scat (droppings), blood and hair found while snow tracking the mountain lion at locations where sightings of the animal were confirmed. In addition, at least a half dozen confirmed sightings of a mountain lion in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are believed to be of the same animal. The distance between the first documentation in Minnesota and the spot where the animal was killed by a vehicle is nearly 1,000 miles and is nearly double the longest distance previously recorded for a dispersing mountain lion.
Dispersal is a normal behavior of young male mountain lions searching for females but they seldom travel more than 100 miles.
The path of the mountain lion led Wisconsin biologists to dub the male cat the “St. Croix Mountain lion, ” after the first county where a confirmed sighting of it occurred.
There were sightings of an animal that was believed to be a mountain lion in Greenwich in early June. The last verified sighting was June 5, at the Brunswick School there. A scat sample at that location was taken by the Greenwich Police Department and sent out for testing.
Genetic tests performed by the U.S. Forest Service Wildlife Genetic lab, Missoula, Montana on this scat determined that it was from a mountain lion and indicate it was from the animal killed in Milford.
DEEP is having additional tests conducted by a second lab to see if a more definitive link can be established.
Results of genetic tests on the Milford mountain lion have substantiated information and observations obtained through a detailed necropsy performed by a veterinary pathologist from a United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) forensics lab.
The necropsy, performed at DEEP’s Sessions Woods Wildlife Center, Burlington, Conn., showed the young, lean, 140-pound male mountain lion was not neutered or declawed – characteristics that seemed to indicate it was not a captive animal that had escaped or been released.
The examination of the animal also showed it had no implanted micro chips, which are commonly used in domestic animals. Porcupine quills were also found in the animal’s subcutaneous tissue indicating it had spent some time in the wild. Examination of the stomach contents, tissues and parasites is continuing. It was estimated to be between two and five years old but a more precise age is being determined by microscopic analysis of an extracted tooth.
Personnel from several agencies have expended a great deal of time and effort in investigating the mysterious appearance of this mountain lion in Connecticut. These include the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service’s Wildlife Genetics laboratory, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources , and the New York State Museum in Albany.
“A wild mountain lion traveling through our state is certainly an anomaly,” Commissioner Esty said. “It is, however, a strong symbol of what we all hope for – that wilderness areas and biological diversity can be preserved and protected. Thankfully, through the hard work and dedication of conservations, wildlife experts and everyone who cares about our environment and natural resources our state and nation have made great progress in achieving this goal.”
At approximately 1 a.m. on Saturday, June 11, DEEP was notified by State Police – Troop I, of a collision between a motor vehicle and a mountain lion Northbound on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in the area of Exit 55 in Milford.
The animal was struck and killed by a 2006 Hyundai Tucson SUV. The operator of the vehicle was uninjured.
DEEP had been working with the Town of Greenwich Police Department to investigate prior sightings of a large cat in that town. Based on photographs taken of the animal and other evidence it appeared that the animal was a mountain lion. The last “credible sighting” in Greenwich was June 5.
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