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Wednesday
Jul272011

Long Trek: Cougar Walked from South Dakota to Connecticut

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision(MILFORD, Conn.) -- The mountain lion that met an untimely death on a Connecticut highway last month had walked 1,500 miles from South Dakota, environmental officials say -- an incredible journey tracked through DNA samples collected in the Midwest over the last two years.

The 140-pound male cougar, whose age is estimated at between 2 and 5 years, almost certainly left its native habitat to look for mates but went in the wrong direction, according to Adrian Wydeven, mammal ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "He was looking for love in all the wrong places," he said.

The mountain lion was struck by an SUV on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford, Conn., on June 11. The driver was unhurt, but the cougar died at the scene.

Experts initially believed it had been released or escaped from captivity, given that no mountain lion had been sighted in the state in more than 100 years.

But Daniel Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said in a statement Tuesday that genetic tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service Wildlife Genetics Laboratory showed that the animal had traveled from the Black Hills of South Dakota. DNA samples of scat (droppings), blood and hair -- taken at one site in Minnesota and three sites in Wisconsin in 2009 and 2010 of a mountain lion whose movements were tracked in those states -- confirmed the findings.

The cougar was not neutered or declawed -- more evidence that it was a wild creature -- and had no implanted microchips. Porcupine quills were found under its skin -- another sign of its having lived in the wild.

Biologists believe the creature wandered through Ontario and New York State before arriving in Connecticut. Normally, mountain lions only travel 100 miles or so looking for mates, and it's not clear why this cougar took such an epic journey.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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