Dead cougar marks 7th confirmed sighting in 14 months

A dead cougar turned up over the weekend in Pope County, according to a report on Alexandria television KSAX. The station had also reported recently on a cougar sighting nearby that state Department of Natural Resources officials dismissed as a large house cat.

Now the station is posting pretty convincing photos of a large, male, and very dead cougar laying in grass next to a coffee cup.

I’m assuming the cup is intended to demonstrate the cat’s relative size, and has nothing to do with the animal’s death. I mean, I’ve had some strong coffee before, but …

I just reported on Minnesota Public Radio of an increasing number of mountain lion sightings in Minnesota over the last two years.

Glenwood, Minn., Area Wildlife Supervisor Kevin Kotts was not available Monday.

I spoke at some length with a former DNR biologist who now studies things like cougars and Canada lynx on a contract basis. He worries about the public perception that there’s some kind of department conspiracy going to suppress reports of cougar sightings.

Some people, apparently, believe the DNR is either covering up what it knows about cougars in Minnesota, or worse yet, that the department has actually introduced mountain lions into the state, the biologist said.

He assures me that both theories are complete bunk. The cougars are almost certainly individual young males looking for lady cats, and wandering in from the western Dakotas, where they’ve pretty much filled up the region’s capacity for cougars. There’s still no evidence mountain lions are staying, or reproducing in Minnesota.

But now, a dead cougar will almost certainly re-fire the theories.

And one final question for the class: What do you call the animals? Technically, the terms “cougar” and “mountain lion” are interchangeable terms for the same animal. It’s also called a “puma.” But the term “cougar” sounds most correct to me, while my editors prefer “mountain lion.”

Feel free to respond with your preference.