Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Car hits, kills cougar on south side of Bemidji

Bemidji, Minn. – State wildlife officials haven’t determined if
an animal hit and killed by a vehicle in Bemidji last Friday was
wild or not, but one thing is clear: It was a mountain lion.

The cougar, a male that weighed about 110 pounds, was struck and
killed about 10:40 p.m. on a bridge that crosses the Schoolcraft
River on the south side of town.

“To my knowledge, it’s the first (road-killed cougar) that we
have ever had,” said John Erb, a furbearer biologist for the
DNR.

The DNR took possession of the animal after it was hit, and it
now is at the Forest Wildlife Populations and Research Group in
Grand Rapids. A necropsy of the cougar will begin next week.

In areas where cougars live, like the Black Hills and Florida,
some are struck and killed by vehicles every year. In Florida,
between five and 10 panthers are hit each year, and the entire
population consists of about 50 animals, Erb said.

“We expect that at any given time there could be a few running
around the state, so it’s only a matter of time when that happens,”
he said. “You would expect these things to occur periodically if
you do, in fact, have small populations.”

While reports of mountain lion sightings are common in the
state, few have been confirmed.

It’s unfortunate the lion was hit by a car, Erb said, but “it is
very nice to get something you can put your hands on and get some
real data on.”

There were no immediate indications that it was once a captive
animal – it didn’t have a collar or ear tags, and hadn’t been
declawed, for example – but Erb said further testing is necessary.
It had been spotted numerous times before being hit, he said.

In his weekly report, Bemidji CO Mike Hruza wrote that he
“received three different reports of a mountain lion sighting on
Friday. Later in the evening a mountain lion was struck and killed
by a car.”

Blane Klemek, DNR assistant area wildlife manager in Bemidji,
saw the cougar Saturday morning. His office receives frequent
reports from people who think they have seen lions, but this is the
first time one has been confirmed, he said.

From time to time, he or other wildlife officials will
investigate the reports and look for tracks or other evidence, but
most of the sightings end up being bobcats, Klemek said.

Other than being dead, the cougar was in good shape, he
said.

Testing of the animal will be thorough, Erb said.

“It looks like what I would expect for a wild cougar – I will
say that,” he said. “It doesn’t look fat and lazy, and it also
doesn’t look like it was starving to death (as might be expected if
a captive animal were released into the wild)… It looks like a
pretty stout, strong, healthy, active, muscular sub-adult
male.”

Erb’s initial impression is the cougar is a 2.5-year-old, but he
said he couldn’t be sure without further testing. An animal of that
age, especially a male, fits the profile of one that might have
been born in the Black Hills, then dispersed to set up its own
territory.

That was the case in January of 2005, when a radio-collared,
young male cougar wandered into Minnesota. That animal traveled
from the Black Hills and through North Dakota before moving across
the northwestern part of the state. It spent time in the Roseau
River Wildlife Management Area before it went into Canada.

Testing of the cougar killed last week, which will be done in
Grand Rapids and at other labs, will include chemical analysis of
the hair, muscle, and bone, which will indicate what it had eaten
in recent weeks and months. Officials will open the stomach to see
what’s in there, conduct a DNA analysis, and inspect the cougar for
parasites.

Klemek came away impressed by the animal.

“Being right next to it, that’s an impressive animal,” he
said.

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