Cougar sighted in western EP|Richard_F|richard@cfz.org.uk|04/04/05 at 20:38:43|richard_f|xx|0|81.153.207.194|Cougar sighted in western EP
By Lyn Jerde

An Eden Prairie city employee's reported sighting of a cougar last week on
the city's west side prompted Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
officials to track the animal to a likely lair in Chanhassen.

Confirmed cougar sightings in Minnesota are extremely rare, according to the
DNR.

And, while the large felines generally fear and avoid humans, caution is
warranted, said Jim LaBarre, the DNR's assistant area wildlife manager for
the north metro area.

"There aren't too many larger mammals that go after pets, in the metro area,
though we have this situation in the north," he said. "We recommend that
people always keep control of their pets, and keep an eye on them when
they're out."

Pat Brink, the city's communication coordinator, said the city employee saw
what looked like a cougar March 23 on the western edge of Eden Prairie.

Brink said DNR officials investigated the report, and found the carcass of a
deer (a cougar's preferred prey) and cougar tracks - but no sign of the
cougar - in an abandoned Chanhassen building about a mile from Eden
Prairie's city limits.

Similar reports of cougar sightings, Brink said, have recently come from
Minnetonka, Shorewood and Chanhassen.

"The cities and the DNR are coordinating their efforts to determine a
territory that the animal may inhabit," Brink said.

According to the DNR, the cougar (Felis concolor) is common in the western
United States, but is extremely rare in Minnesota.

Cougars in Minnesota might be escaped or released pets (people may legally
buy them from game farms and keep them as pets), or they wandered eastward
from mountainous western states.

An article on the DNR's Web site (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us) noted that the
department gets about 50 reports of cougar sightings each year - but most of
the sightings turn out to be "large house cats, or even yellow Labrador
dogs."

Conrad Christianson, a DNR furbearer specialist, said, "We can't rely on
every telephone call that comes in. A lot of people think they've seen a
cougar, but it turned out to be a St. Bernard dog."

At six to nine feet long and between 100 and 200 pounds, a full-grown cougar
is larger than most dogs.

The cougar's color is typically tawny (tan to tan-orange), and its
characteristic feature is a long, curling, rope-like tail.

Cougars eat prey ranging from rabbits to deer, and have been known to attack
and injure horses.

Christianson said a cougar living in or near the suburbs would circulate in
terrain that offers an abundance of food - especially deer, but also
turkeys, rabbits and other animals.

Although there has been no reported case of a cougar attacking humans in
Minnesota, Christianson said, such attacks have happened in the western
United States, as people move to land that was formerly cougar habitat.

Anyone who sees a cougar, Christianson said, should respond as follows:

. Don't turn your back on the animal.

. Back away slowly.

. Try to make yourself appear "large and loud."

In any case, he said, cougars are a protected species, and the DNR will not
trap and relocate them.

And, it's up to local police departments to protect citizens against
threatening animals (including vicious house pets, which are far more likely
to threaten suburban people than cougars), Christianson said.

Anyone who spots what might be a cougar is asked to contact their local
police or animal control officer. In Eden Prairie, the animal control
officer can be reached at 911, or at the non-emergency Eden Prairie Police
Department number, 952-949-6200.

Previous suburban cougar sightings

The following confirmed sightings of cougars have taken place in the Twin
Cities metropolitan area:

. July 1996 - The image of a cougar was captured on videotape from a
security camera in the Maple Grove and Plymouth area.

. April 2002 - Pictures taken by motion-sensitive cameras captured images,
over a three-day period of an adult cougar at a deer kill in the Minnesota
River Valley near Savage.

. May 2002 - Bloomington police shot and killed a 103-pound female cougar,
which stood her ground about 30 feet from a walking path in Moir and Central
parks. DNR Furbearer Specialist Conrad Christianson said he is almost
certain this was the same cougar as the one spotted near Savage.

Sources: Eastern Cougar Network Inc., www.easterncougarnet.org.

Seen big pawprints? Here's how to tell if it might be a cougar

DNR Furbearer Specialist Conrad Christianson said cougars leave pawprints
that are about four inches in diameter - but so do many large breeds of
dogs, and wolves.

To distinguish between tracks from canine or feline species, Christianson
recommends checking the Web site www.bear-tracker.com, then clicking on
"Canine vs. Feline."

Some differences include:

. Canine tracks usually have claw marks. Feline tracks do not, unless the
animal is running or pouncing.

. Canine tracks don't have a third lobe on the hind edge of the heel pad. In
a feline track, the hind edge of the heel has three aligned lobes.

. In a canine track, the two front toes are lined up side by side. Feline
tracks show one toe further ahead than the other, similar to an index finger
in humans.

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