In what’s being called the longest journey a mountain lion has ever taken in the United States, a cougar killed in Milford, CT, six weeks ago—believed by some to be the same cougar sighted June 5 in Greenwich, CT—traveled 1,100 miles from South Dakota to get to New England, Connecticut officials said Tuesday.
According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, collected analyst data shows that the feline known in South Dakota known as the “St. Croix Cougar” journeyed from that state’s Black Hills, through Minnesota and Wisconsin (see attached map) and across the Midwest—likely southern Ontario, Canada—eventually to Greenwich, where it met its end after colliding with a SUV on the Wilbur Cross parkway in Milford.
“This is an incredible journey, nearly double that of any mountain lion [ever recorded],” Connecticut DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty said during a press briefing.
Though the first confirmed sighting occurred in Minnesota, officials believe the mountain lion likely was born in South Dakota, meaning a total distance traveled of closer to 1,800 miles is possible.
Scat samples, including those found in Greenwich, as well as sightings across the nation dating back as far as Dec. 2009, snow tracks, photos from trail cameras, tissues collected for genetic testing and the young male’s unmanicured condition, led analysts—including in a lab in Rocky Hill, CT—to the conclusion mountain lion had not been held in captivity, according to Paul Rego, a supervising wildlife biologist with the DEEP.
Esty touted the cougar’s ability to traverse so far in the wild as a testament to efforts from conservationists and environmental protection groups.
“Although this is the story of the first recorded example of a mountain lion sighting in Connecticut in more than 100 years, there is no evidence of a mountain lion [in Connecticut] beyond this single individual,” Esty said.
The findings mark the latest chapter in a story that’s captured the attention and imagination of residents throughout Fairfield County and Connecticut—the gregarious “Greenwich Mountain Lion” on Facebook last week notched her 3,000th friend—as a species said to be extinct in the Nutmeg State appeared to have reemerged.
Within days of the mountain lion’s death on a highway in Milford (see photo), state DEEP officials launched an investigation into whether that cougar had been held in captivity illegally.
In Greenwich and throughout the state, the dual sightings sparked debate over whether mountain lions were present in greater numbers than state officials had acknowledged. In Fairfield, police were given the green light to kill mountain lions that couldn’t be contained.
As investigators searched for answers, including in neighboring states, residents in Greenwich and other Connecticut towns, including Fairfield, began reporting sightings of their own, at least one of which was found to be inaccurate.
[Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect distances traveled from confirmed sightings versus scientifically believed points of origin.]