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DNR: Bemidji cougar's origin still unknown

DNA testing continues on a young male cougar killed by a car Sept. 18 in Bemidji, but early indications may be that a stranger was in our midst.

"The DNA did not match any other cougar in the database so all that tells us is it's not a cougar somebody else already detected as part of a study," said DNR furbearer specialist John Erb. The cat was taken to the forest wildlife research station in Grand Rapids.

"We have some partial information from necropsying the animal but we have only partial DNA results back.

"There was one in Wisconsin recently and they collected a blood sample from that," Erb said.

"It didn't match but we don't have the information yet on whether the DNA closely matches the South Dakota population or Colorado so at this point it's incomplete."

It is believed that sub-adult "dispersers" occasionally roam out of the Black Hills eastward looking for females, ousted from their prides by dominant males.

Whether the 114-pound Bemidji cougar was one of those cats is still being determined.

But Erb said while DNA testing cannot usually determine conclusively if a cougar is captive or wild, "my opinion continues to be that I don't think so," he said, of the Bemidji cougar being a domestic cat.

Complicating the DNR's task is the sighting Dec. 6 of a 200-pound cougar in Champlin, captured on a police officer's dashboard camera roaming through a residential neighborhood.

The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone has publicly offered to take that cat if it can be safely captured.

"It would be quite rare if this cougar ends up being wild, but it's not impossible," said Tammy Thies, director of The Wildcat Sanctuary.

"Given the cougar's location and approximate size, it is more likely to be someone's escaped pet," she said. "We have heard about privately owned cougars in Inver Grove Heights, Minnetonka and also in Anoka and Isanti counties."

TWS believes there may be 1,000 privately owned cougars in Minnesota. The Sanctuary houses more than 100 wildcats including 19 cougars.