Updated: 2 p.m.
Researchers studying wolves in far northern Minnesota have released rare footage of a mountain lion recorded last month.
The video shows a large cougar walking down a dirt road on state land about 10 miles south of Voyageurs National Park.
Tom Gable, who leads the Voyageurs Wolf Project, said crews discovered the footage this week after they swapped out memory cards in trail cameras as part of their work to wrap up their research season.
"We all just got super excited,” Gable said. “We always knew it was a possibility. But you're kind of left wondering, ‘are we ever going to really see one?’ So the fact that we got one was amazing."
Gable said the project’s network of cameras, set up around the national park near the Canadian border to document the summer predation habits of wolves, often capture images of other wildlife, including hard-to-see species that are native to the state, such as lynx and badger.
But this is the first time they’ve documented a cougar, even though Gable said they often hear about alleged cougar sightings from locals — including videos of a mountain lion captured near Ray and Kabetogama, Minn., around the same time Gable’s camera recorded the cougar on Oct. 20.
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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website documents at least 59 verifiable cougar sightings across the state since 2004, including 15 in the year 2020 alone — although the agency cautions that there could be multiple sightings of the same cat.
DNR large carnivore specialist Dan Stark said Thursday that number is now over 60; the list hasn’t been updated for several months. He said just last week the agency received two trail camera photos of a cougar in northern Itasca County.
State wildlife officials say there is no evidence that a breeding or resident population has been established in Minnesota.
“Most of the cougars that have been documented appear to be transient animals that are likely dispersers from the western Dakotas,” Stark said. He said that’s based on genetic information from cats that have been killed.
Stark said the cougars that have crossed through Minnesota all appear to be young males that leave the area near where they were born, in search of a mate or unoccupied territory.
“We’ve seen this with cats that can cover a lot of ground,” Stark said.
The most famous example is a wild cougar that embarked on a 2,000-mile long journey that took him through the Twin Cities area, across Wisconsin and Michigan into Canada, and eventually to a busy Connecticut highway outside New York City, where it was killed in 2011.