Mountain lion mystery solved

A cougar killed by a car near Bemidji in 2009 likely came from North Dakota, according to recently analyzed DNA evidence.

The 114-pound male cat is genetically consistent with animals found in the Badlands of North Dakota, said John Erb, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources research scientist.

The evidence suggests the animal was wild and not a captive animal that escaped. It made big news when it was hit because cougars are sometimes sighted, but rarely found in Minnesota.

“To my knowledge, it’s only road kill [cougar] every documented in state of Minnesota,” Erb said.

There have been multiple cougar sightings in the state in recent years.

But Erb said there’s still no evidence of a breeding cougar population in Minnesota. Occasional sightings of cougars — also called mountain lions — likely are animals passing through the state from the Dakotas, as this one apparently was.

Young male mountain lions — as this was — tend to wander long distances. A federal lab in Montana only recently determined its likely origin. In ground-breaking work, the lab collected samples of mountain lions taken elsewhere and was able to determine there are genetic differences. Scientists learned that cougars in North Dakota differ from ones found in South Dakota, Erb said.

Meanwhile, the Bemidji cat remains in a DNR freezer.

“The hide will be made into tanned rug, or maybe full-body mount to be displayed in a DNR office,” Erb said. “The skeleton will go to the Bell Museum, to be stored and preserved for study.”

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