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How common are cougars in central Minnesota?

Cougar hit and killed by motorist on Twin Cities freeway
Cougar hit and killed by motorist on Twin Cities freeway 01:43

MINNEAPOLIS — The death of a cougar on a Twin Cities highway, along with recent sightings in Minneapolis, may have metro residents wondering if the large cats are becoming more common in the area.

Good news for those fearful: According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, cougars "are rarely seen but occasionally do appear" in the state.

A cougar captured on video in the Lowry Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis. Kristi

Statewide, the DNR has only verified 77 cougar appearances in the state since 2004, and the agency notes that each sighting does not necessarily represent a unique cat. Of those, only a handful occurred in the Twin Cities. Just last year, a driver hit and killed a cougar in Savage. This followed multiple sightings of the cougar in a nearby neighborhood. Central Minnesota as a whole accounts for less than a third of all verified sightings. 

More than half of the sightings occurred in northern Minnesota. In October 2022, the Voyageurs Wolf Project captured a cougar on camera near the Canadian border.

Voyageurs Wolf Project

The DNR tracks all verified sightings on an online map

"There is no evidence that Minnesota has a self-sustaining, breeding population," the DNR said. "While evidence might suggest the animal's prevalence is increasing, the number of verified cougar observations indicate that cougar occurrence in Minnesota is a result of transient animals from the Western Dakotas."

A DNR representative told WCCO the closest cougar populations are in the Black Hills of South Dakota, western North Dakota and northwestern Nebraska.

Even rarer than a sighting is an actual encounter with a cougar. The DNR said even in California, where the cougar population is much larger, you are "1,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a cougar."

If you do meet one of the cats, the DNR advises you to "make yourself appear larger and speak loudly and firmly" to scare them off. They are a protected species, so killing the animal is forbidden.

Anyone who sees a cougar should report the encounter to a conservation officer or local law enforcement officials. You can also call the DNR directly at 651-296-6157.

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