How to Collect Evidence of Cougars


Sightings may be reported online at www.michigan.gov/dnr under Wildlife and Habitat - Wildlife Observations. Online observations are not reviewed for months at a time for mapping purposes - so only report to this webpage if you are simply reporting a sighting without physical evidence. If you have physical evidence of a cougar (scat, tracks, or carcass), contact your local DNR Operations Service Center. After business hours, contact the DNR Report all Poaching (RAP) hotline at 800-292-7800. Be careful to not disturb the area and keep physical evidence intact until it can be investigated.
DNR Letter with Directions


When filming an actual cougar or taking photographs, follow these important tips:
Include landmarks and other reference items to show location and size
Affix date of the filming, if possible.
Woods-Cam cameras are proving to be extremely helpful in the hunt for Michigan cougars. In Allegan County, one man's woods-cam clearly caught a cougar.


Cougars primarily eat whitetail deer, but they have been known to also attack and feed on livestock as large as horses. Click here to see identifying claw rake marks often found on horses after a cougar attack.
They prefer to attack in the upper neck-back of the head area when the animal has its head down and feeding. Look for tooth holes at the base of the skull, the upper back of the neck, or throat - about 1 1/2 - 2" apart. Once the cougar kills, it will drag or carry the carcass into a secluded area - look for drag marks.
Because large cats have a Vitamin A deficiency, the cat will first devour the internal organs - heart, liver, and lungs. In order to do this, it will neatly sheer off the ribs to access the chest cavity. Before doing so, it will often remove the intestines, leaving them in a different area, similar to the way that deerhunters gut their claims. Cougar behavior is different from canine behavior, in that wolves will often first eat the intestines, entering through the rectal area.
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After the cat has finished the internal organs, they will begin to eat the animal by sheering off patches of hair. The cat does not "rip-apart" the carcass like canines, and often leaves large leg bones in place. Remember that cougars are solitary hunters enjoying time to finish their meal, while canines travel in packs, ripping and tearing to compete for food with other pack members.
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Once the cat has finished its first feeding, it will often hide the carcass so that it may return for future feedings. The easiest place for hiding is under large overhanging tree branches. On occasion, the cats have been known to fully cover their kills with branches and leaves.
In large livestock, such as horses, look for hourglass scratches on the top of the back haunches. This is reflective of the cougar jumping onto the horses back, being bucked off, sliding down, and trying to hold on. Be sure to check barbed wire in the area for damage and relationship height to the scratch marks on the horse.
Cougars have a tendency to return to kill sites - even old kill sites when the carcass is solely bones and hide. They renew scratches and scent markers at these sites. Because of this habit, searchers were able to locate and kill the cougar that attacked and killed jogger Barbara Schoener in California in 1994. Although her body had been removed several days prior, the cougar continued to return to the kill site.


Why should we collect scat? Up to 50% of fresh scat, may contain DNA samples (cells scraped from digestive tract). The scat is usually between 1 - 1 1/2" in diameter and 5-12 inches long. Frequently the scat will include animal hair and bone fragments which reflect the cat's diet of primarily whitetail deer. The scat is traditionally segmented and twisted. The scat will have a definite "cat odor" that you will smell - this is frequently referred to as the "Escanaba Sniff Test". Sometimes, but not always, the scat will be partially covered, the same way that household cats cover their scat. When looking for locations, you should check trail crossings, as the cats have been known to mark territory at these areas.

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How to collect scat:
Photograph the scat using tape measure or common items for size comparison
Pick up with a paper towel or tissue
Place into a sealed plastic bag
Label with date, time, and location of collection
Take sample out of the light because UV light and heat deplete DNA
Place sample in the refrigerator until you can transport to a lab


Michigan DNR Website Comparing Cougar, Coyote, Bobcat Tracks

Cougars are cats - their tracks are similar to your everyday house cat - JUST BIGGER! They routinely measure 3 - 3 1/2" wide. The stride is between 16 - 24" at a typical walking speed. The track will have four toes symmetrically with a dominant lead toe. There will seldom be claw marks unless the cat has poor footing. The toes are smaller relative to the large heel pad which has three lobes on the back edge and a concave or flat front edge. Tracks may also include evidence of tail drag, particularly in snow conditions. Look at this site for a nice comparison between feline and canine tracks.

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How to Collect Track Evidence
Photograph the track using tape measure or common items for size comparison
Photograph the straddle (length between tracks) using tape measure or common items for size comparison
Photograph the area where the track was found to show area landmarks, trails, trees, etc.
Cast the track if casting supplies are available


Michigan DNR Website Distinquishing Cougars, Bobcats, and Domestic Cats

SCRATCHING TREES: Cats like to sharpen their claws - housecats do it on furniture and scratching posts. Cougars do it on trees. Examples of these scratch trees were found in the same woods as a foal was killed by a cougar in Allegan County. Click here to see a photo of a similar tree that was scratched two years after the foal was killed - taken at the same property and surrounded by 4" large tracks. The scratches went 8' up the tree. Photos should be taken to document tree scratches. Look at this site for photos of cat scratches resulting from a cat climbing a tree.
FLYING DEER: A couple of people in the Upper Pensinsula have mentioned that they've found dead whitetail deer in the trees - in 1997, there was a report of a deer carcass found in a tree in the Porcupine Mountains in Ontonagon County. Wildlife experts have documented cougars dragging kill into the trees. It is a way of protecting the kill to feed later, the same way they cover the kill with leaves/twigs. Some have even dragged the kill up/down the tree several times to feed. Take photos of flying deer.
CUBS: Cubs look different than adult cougars. While adult cougars are primarily tawny brown, cougar cubs are spotted with blue eyes. Mothers do not need caves or cliffs for dens as normally depicted in television. Any fallen limb will do for a den. Mother cubs normally hunt alone and only begin bringing cubs when they are old enough.