The results of a DNA test performed on a mountain lion killed in Milford, Connecticut on June 11 show that it originated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, according to a report by BBC.co.uk. The distance covered was about 1,800 miles (other sources estimate 1,500 miles), which scientists say is one of the longest known treks ever by a land mammal.
“The journey of this mountain lion is a testament to the wonders of nature and the tenacity and adaptability of this species,” said Daniel Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
This was the first cougar to be seen in Connecticut in over a century, and locals assumed it was a domesticated animal that had gotten loose. As pointed out on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, the closest mountain lion habitats are in Florida and the Black Hills.
In an appearance on NPR, Kristi Pilgrim, laboratory supervisor for the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana, explained how she and her team identified the travelling cat—and its cross-country route—from a sample of its DNA. “We have a genetic database comprised of over 800 individual mountain lions or cougars from various locations all over the west,” she said. “When we received the tissue sample from this mountain lion killed by the vehicle in Milford, Connecticut, we were able to perform DNA analysis to obtain a unique genetic profile for the animal.”
Not only could the scientists say with certainty that the cougar came from the Black Hills; they compared it to “hair and scat samples—non-invasive samples,” Pilgrim said, “and we found a match.” Like a fingerprint placing a suspect at the scene of a crime, DNA placed the cougar in Minnesota and Wisconsin at the end of 2009 and the spring of 2010. Wisconsin officials have been sensitive to cougar signtings of late, and have collected evidence that four separate mountain lions have visited the state in recent years; the one killed in Connecticut had been dubbed the “St. Croix Cougar” and the “Twin Cities Cougar.”
John Kostyack, vice president of wildlife conservation for the National Wildlife Federation, is one of numerous wildlife enthusiasts hoping that this mountain lion’s trek foreshadows a larger migration eastward “Everyone I’ve talked to is just really excited about this,” he said, according to a report at CNN.com. “You hear of marine species traveling around the world, but as far as land animals traveling 1,500 miles, that is extremely rare.”
Adrian Wydeven, a mammalian ecologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, seemed more certain, telling MSNBC.com that this cougar’s journey was a migration enabled by such conservation efforts as the Endangered Species Act of 1973. “It demonstrates that these large carnivores can return to areas where they had once existed, if they’re given adequate protection,” he said. The article cited wolves’ return to Wisconsin and the appearance of Moose in the Northeast as evidence of a trend that wild animals are roaming freer.