DETROIT (AP) — More cougar sightings are being confirmed in Michigan, although wildlife officials aren’t certain yet whether that means more of the animals are reclaiming the area as their home.
Ten sightings of cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions, have been confirmed so far this year by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, all in the state’s Upper Peninsula, compared with 15 last year.
The most recent sighting in Michigan, confirmed by the agency in October, was on Sept. 16, when a photo was captured of a cougar in southern Dickinson County.
The increase in confirmed reports may come from the recent popularity of “trail” or “game” cameras strapped to trees, DNR spokesman John Pepin told The Detroit News. Hunters and wildlife enthusiasts often have multiple cameras in different locations, with those devices activating when there is movement.
DNR confirms sightings based on the video, photographs, or visible tracks, with two cases in the Upper Peninsula having been a result of poached cougar carcasses.
The DNR’s count of cougar sightings hit double digits for the first time in 2019, with the agency recording more sightings in the last three years than it did during the previous decade.
The state agency does not know how many of the sightings in recent years were unique, according to Pepin, but assumes that several reports may involve the same animal or animals based on some studies as well as the close geographical locations of some sightings.
The DNR also cannot estimate how many cougars may be in Michigan at any time but presumes that it is a small number. No evidence has been found of a breeding population in Michigan, Pepin said.
Cougars were trapped and hunted from Michigan around the start of the 20th century and are now listed as an endangered species and protected under state law, he said.