Every year the DNR gets 30 to 50 reports of cougar sightings in the Brainerd area. How many of those "sightings" are really cougars nobody knows.
"At least a few travel through here," said Gary Drotts, DNR area wildlife manager. "A lot of them are escaped pets."
The nearest natural cougar populations are in North Dakota and Canada. But the cats are long-range roamers and occasionally drift this way.
In recent weeks people who live near the Northland Arboretum have reported seeing cougars. The following was posted on the Dispatch Web site in an outdoor forum: "They walk across the streets, between buildings and are not afraid of human surroundings at all."
Dale Braddy, the arboretum's executive director, said he found tracks in the arboretum that were "very suspicious." But he didn't see a cougar.
"We're keeping an eye out," Braddy said. "We hope they won't make the arb their home. The tracks I saw looked like a mother with a couple of little ones. If they're here we hope they'll move on. They can be dangerous to dogs and small children."
In most encounters with a human, a cougar heads the other way. With all the deer hunters tromping through the woods in recent weeks it's possible a cougar took refuge in the arboretum.
Another posting on the Dispatch Web site claimed the DNR released cougars in Camp Ripley. Drotts said it never happened.
"We heard that about timber wolves 20 years ago," Drotts said. "But the wolves came down from the north into Pillsbury State Forest, then crossed the river into Camp. We heard claims that we captured 200 cougars and released them into Camp. Where would we have found all those?"
Cougars are hunted in the Dakotas. In South Dakota five breeding females were shot this year, Drotts said. In Minnesota cougars are protected. You cannot shoot a cougar unless it poses an imminent threat to life or property. Anyone who kills a cougar must report it to the DNR. Drotts began working in Brainerd 31 years ago and said that over that span nobody has brought in a dead cougar.
The DNR will not trap and relocate a cougar. If a cougar becomes a threat to public safety it will be shot, Drotts said.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862
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