DNA confirm Michigan cougar

LANSING, Mich. — DNA testing has confirmed that a large cat struck by a vehicle last year was a cougar, but it remains unclear whether Michigan has an established population of wildcats, a state wildlife official said recently.

A motorist reported hitting "a large cat" in southern Menominee County on November 2, 2004. The driver turned over hair samples collected from the bumper to biologists at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources field office in Escanaba.

The samples were forwarded to the Wildlife Division's pathology lab, then sent to Central Michigan University for analysis.

"This is exactly the kind of information we are looking for to gain a better understanding of what animals are present in Michigan and identify potential areas for additional work," said Ray Rustem, the DNR's natural heritage unit supervisor.

Even so, he said, the test result "still does not confirm the presence of a breeding population in Michigan."

The nonprofit Michigan Wildlife Conservancy contends there is such a population and has been trying to document it for several years. DNR officials say even if people occasionally spot cougars, the animals might be just passing through or could be pets that were released into the wild.