Confirmed: Cougars are making a comeback
PADUCAH — A new study suggests cougars are again spreading across the Midwest a century after the generally reclusive predators were hunted to near extinction in much of the region.
The findings by a University of Minnesota doctoral student, Southern Illinois University wildlife ecologist Dr. Clay Nielson and the Cougar Network are detailed in the latest Journal of Wildlife Management.
Nielson said the population is mostly males and therefore not multiplying, but state agencies should take notice.
"State agencies, conversationalists should be educating the public on what they may be seeing out in the woods and what that means should eventually come back to the Midwest," he said.
The study showed 178 cougar confirmations in the Midwest and as far south of Texas between 1990 and 2008.
Confirmed sightings of Midwest cougars were sporadic before 1990, when there were only a couple. The study shows that number spiked to more than 30 by 2008.
Sixty-seven confirmations were in Nebraska, 31 in North Dakota, 12 each in Oklahoma and Texas, 11 in South Dakota and 10 in Missouri. Other states had single-digit tallies.
Virgil Smith, researcher and founder of Shadows of the Shawnee, said the report doesn't mean much to him. He validated the presence of cougars years ago. He thinks Nielson's numbers are low.
"That's extremely low, extremely low," Smith said. "We in our organization itself in '98 estimated 350 cats and that was from I-64 to Cairo."
Both Nielson and Smith agree they will continue their research and that state agencies need to get involved.