Wednesday, August 3, 2011

St. Croix Cougar. Rest in Peace

For those of you in my real world neighborhood this will not be news, but last month I lost a casual acquaintance.  And a distinguished one at that, as he was likely the greatest traveler his kind has ever produced.  I never actually met him, but that is irrelevant, our paths crossed.

In December of 2009 reports started trickling in of cougar sightings near the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area.  These were the usual mix of ambiguous tracks in the snow, missing poodles, people who saw "something", and more reliable accounts.  In particular the proliferation of "game cams"-automatic motion sensor cameras-allowed rapid confirmation that indeed a cougar was revisiting areas where his kind had been hunted to extermination in the 19th century.

Generally when this situation arises there are two theories put forward.  Either this was a "tame" cougar released from captivity by owners who have come to regret a rash decision to adopt a sizable carnivore; or a restless young male specimen on the prowl from the nearest known reproducing population out in the Black Hills of western South Dakota.

This particular cougar hung around eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin a while, apparently swimming or walking across a frozen section of the St. Croix river which divides the two. 

He then spent a few months in northern Wisconsin where in February of 2010 there was a confirmed sighting about two miles from my cabin.  Now, as I spend a good deal of time at said rustic manse it is quite likely that while I did not see or hear him, that he saw and heard me in my comings and goings.  I know several sober minded folk who actually saw a cougar in the area, although some circumstances suggest that there may actually be more than one beast involved.  Most enigmatically a fellow who conducts guided cougar hunts out west took it on himself in the summer of 2008 to run his dogs out after a reported sighting.  He claimed to have treed a female cougar.  Unless he was pulling my leg, and I see no motivation for such monkey shines, the St. Croix male was visiting the area on a social call.

Technology is a wonder indeed, and the progress of the St. Croix cougar was tracked by of all things, DNA testing on his droppings.

In May of 2010 S.C. Cougar seems to have exited Wisconsin heading into the upper Peninsula of Michigan.  From there he may have wandered up into Canada, somehow crossing over substantial water perhaps by swimming across at Sault St. Marie.

Eastward, ever eastward his journey.  Food was to be had aplenty.  And there was no organized attempt to hunt him down both for sentimental reasons and because he was passing through regions that no longer had any rules and regulations for hunting cougars.

Eventually he ran out of continent.  After a brief but probably memorable sighting at an exclusive prep school outside of New York City, he wandered onto an expressway near Milford Connecticut and was struck and killed by a car on June 11, 2011.

Here is his odyssey.

Quite the trek.  Some 1600 miles even if he did not take side trips.  And on autopsy he was confirmed to be the same specimen tracked across the Midwest, and to have been a wild cougar with origins in the Black Hills.

Impressive.  And in a time when we think we have the frontier permanently closed, when we imagine that outside the circle of our figurative firelight there are no longer hungry wild things lurking, a bit to think about.

Cougars in Wisconsin. Yikes, what would that yield on a Google Seach!


next door Laura said...

Maybe you should write the cougar's story in the style of Paddle to the Sea. I would be interested in reading about his adventures as imagined by Tacitus.
I am sorry his tale ended as it did.

Tacitus2 said...

It would be a rather monotonous story.

"Two molecules of receptive she-cat pheremones on the eastern breeze.....roadkill for supper again.....keep walking."