MARQUETTE - A nonprofit group has released what it describes as perhaps the clearest photograph of a wild cougar taken in Michigan.
The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy said Wednesday the close-up picture was taken in June by a trail camera on private property in southern Marquette County. The group declined to identify the landowner.
A cougar photograph was also confirmed in Wisconsin.
According to the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, this cougar was photographed in southern Marquette County by a trail camera on private property on June 1, 2012.
The Marquette County cougar was photographed by a cased and padlocked trail camera on private property on June 1, 2012.
The property owners will also share their information with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources but do not wish to be publicly identified, the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy said.
Dr. Patrick Rusz, director of Wildlife Programs for the Conservancy, and Michael Zuidema, a retired DNR forester, verified the trail camera's location on a well-worn wildlife trail atop a wooded ridge.
The camera has also photographed wolves, coyotes, fishers and numerous other species at the same site over a four-year period.
The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy said it is publicizing this photograph because it may be the best, clearest photograph of a wild Michigan cougar, or mountain lion, ever taken.
It is also unusually interesting, the group said, because Zuidema has recorded more than 20 credible cougar sightings in the same vicinity since the 1970s. These include several sightings within a few miles of the trail camera location.
"The long history of sighting reports in the area indicates the cougar photographed on June 1 may be part of a resident population rather than a wandering cat from a western state," said Rusz.
He has studied cougars for the Conservancy for 14 years and is co-author of a peer-reviewed study that confirmed cougars in both peninsulas of Michigan by analyses of DNA
Rusz has also identified a long list of additional physical evidence dating back to 1966, and notes that Michigan State College zoologist Richard Manville documented several cougar sightings or incidents when he inventoried the fauna of Marquette County's Huron Mountains from 1939 to 1942.
The large volume of recent Michigan evidence includes 15 Michigan DNR confirmations since the agency formed a cougar team of specially trained biologists in 2008.
The most recent DNR confirmation occurred last May when a cougar was photographed with a hand-held camera near Skanee in Baraga County. That photograph was taken about 50 miles north of the Marquette County trail camera location.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Adam Bump said the agency is familiar with the camera's location and has confirmed the photo is authentic.
The DNR says it has verified the presence of cougars in Michigan at least 15 times in recent years.
But the DNR says there's no evidence of breeding activity and believes the cats are probably wandering through the state from elsewhere, while the wildlife conservancy believes Michigan has a resident cougar population.
To compare this photograph with photos of a wolf, coyote, raccoon, and porcupine taken by the same camera in the same location visit www.miwildlife.org.
In Wisconsin, an outdoorsman, using a trail camera for the first time on recently purchased land in Buffalo County, Wis., came up with pictures of a wild roaming cougar the night of July 14-15, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials said.
A wildlife biologist with the DNR, Kris Johansen, visited the site with a warden and confirmed the background vegetation in the photograph matched the site.
In addition, the biologist found and identified cougar tracks on a small patch of sand in the area.
However, with dry, hard soil throughout the area, it was not possible to track the animal. Cougars are famous for their ability to remain concealed from view and to move across large distances without being detected.
Buffalo County, located southwest of Eau Claire, is a trophy deer mecca and both landowners and guides use trail cameras extensively.
While there have been several verified sightings of cougars in Wisconsin in recent years this was only the second verified sighting in 2012.
A cougar was verified near Crandon on March 26. In all cases where biological material was available (hair, scat, blood) the cougars were identified as young, male, North American cougars, officials said.
DNA testing of biological samples and other evidence has confirmed that at least six individual male cougars have visited Wisconsin since 2008.
This latest cougar was photographed in northern Buffalo County between Gilmanton and Mondovi sometime after dark Saturday.