Cougar caught on camera in Minneapolis; latest in string of sightings in Midwest

A cougar walks on a driveway
A cougar was spotted in Minneapolis on Monday. The DNR has had 77 verified wild cougar sightings since 2004.
Screenshot via video

A home surveillance camera picked up an unexpected passerby in the Lowry Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis early Monday: a cougar striding calmly down the alley.

The video was shared widely on social media, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday confirmed what everyone was speculating.

“There’s no question that it’s a cougar,” said Dan Stark, a large carnivore specialist with the Minnesota DNR. “I don’t have any reason to think otherwise.”

It’s not a huge surprise that one of the big cats was spotted in Minnesota; there’ve been numerous documented sightings in recent years, including a few others this fall. But the specific location of Monday’s sighting took Stark by surprise.

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“In a highly populated dense residential area, right in the heart of the Twin Cities just seems pretty odd,” he said.

The DNR has had 77 verified wild cougar sightings since 2004, though some of those sightings have likely been of the same animal.

The agency has said there’s no evidence of a breeding cougar population in Minnesota, and that the animals sighted here are likely young males — possibly from the Black Hills of South Dakota — passing through. Established adult males are very territorial, pushing the young males away from primary cougar habitat.

“There have been a number of cougars in the metro area over the last while, going back almost a couple of decades. … It’s hard to really identify any patterns other than they’ve been … not too far off from those kinds of river valley corridors,” Stark said. “I’d suspect that, as they’re navigating from west to east, they’re probably funneling towards that area, and then somehow end up in those more densely populated areas. And then, of course, it’s probably hard for them to navigate their way out of it.”

Other sightings this fall included in North Mankato in October and in Carver County last month. A bowhunter in western Wisconsin shot and killed a cougar last month, out of concern for his safety. And a cougar was caught on camera in Duluth in August.

Reported sightings been increasing over the past five years, though it’s not clear if that’s a reflection of a growing number of cats moving through the state, or a growing number of door, garage and trail cameras.

“There have been these spikes and sightings and observations periodically, really since about 2007,” Stark said. “It seemed like when we first started getting kind of consistent [reports] when trail cameras became kind of more popular or available to people, and now they’re really prevalent.”

Last year, the eight sightings/verifications were mostly in the Duluth area — and it was the same the year before, though a cougar was hit by a vehicle and killed in Scott County in July 2022.

“People are probably concerned about how they should respond if they encounter one,” Stark said, but he noted that “it’s really rare, even where cougars are well established.”

Stark says if you do, by chance, encounter a cougar:

  • stay facing the animal

  • try to appear large by holding your arms up or jacket out

  • stay in a group and talk loudly

He said you can even throw things at the animal to try to get it to leave.

“But if there is an attack, the advice is to fight back, don’t run, don’t crouch, don’t lie down. Try to be as aggressive as possible,” he said.