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This week's cougar shooting is under investigation by DNR

ROUND LAKE -- The news of a cougar shot Sunday in Jackson County has caught the attention of the entire state, it seems. According to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Predatory Biologist Dan Stark, the fatal shooting of a 125 pound male cougar by a citizen was a remarkably rare event, possibly the first time in recent years a protected animal has been shot and then reported to the DNR.

Bruce Ihnen said he had finished up chores at his brother's Round Lake Township farm Sunday evening, and was leaving when he caught sight of the cougar in his headlights. The animal had run out of a grove and into a ditch, then entered a culvert.

Keeping an eye on the culvert, Ihnen called a neighbor, Daniel Hamann, who brought over a gun.

The cougar was flushed out of the culvert and shot. The following day, they called the DNR to report the incident.

"They came out Monday and took him," Ihnen said.

The men said they killed the cougar because of the proximity of horses and young children who live in the area.

Stark said there are no reported incidents of cougar attacks in the state, but there have been 14 verified sightings of cats in Minnesota since 2007, when the DNR began a consistent tracking of cougar-related activity.

"We have very few showing up, and most of those are from the western Dakotas," Stark stated. "We don't have a resident population, and we haven't documented a wild female. All the cats that have shown up have been younger males."

Of the 14 verified sightings, 11 were caught by trail cameras or video.

Two were found dead. When it comes to the 11 trail camera sightings, the DNR has no way of knowing whether some of the sightings are the same cat caught by more than one camera.

Stark said cougars, known to some as mountain lions, started showing up in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the early 1990s.

"They had a population established by the mid 1990s, a population of 250 or so," he explained.

But the range in the Black Hills considered cougar-habitable is pretty well occupied, he added.

The young males who have left their mother's sides are dispersing and traveling, not only to Minnesota, but to Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska as well.

One animal was tracked via DNA through the metro area of Minnesota, then showed up three different places in Wisconsin before being hit by a car and killed in Connecticut.

"That just illustrates the distance they have the potential to travel," Stark said.

Cougar research has been taking place in the Black Hills, with some of the animals being fitted with radio collars.

In 2004, one of the animals was tracked to northern Minnesota, then disappeared in Canada.

The fate of that animal is unknown.

Back in 1991, a cougar was found in a barn south of Worthington.

The barn contained a goat herd and several cats, none of which were harmed.

The cougar fled the barn, and a couple of weeks passed before it was discovered in a tree off of Nobles Street.

The DNR tranquilized the animal and it was transported to a game farm in Colorado.

Between 1991 and 2007, eight other verified reports of cougars were reported in the state.

"Some were likely captive animals, some were declawed," he stated. "Other than the 2004 radio collared one, we can't say whether they were wild or not.

The animal killed Sunday, Stark estimated, is one to three years old. The DNR will pull a tooth to determine a more exact age, he added. The wear on the tooth will help pinpoint an age.

A conservation officer consulted about the shooting said he cannot comment on the likelihood of any charges being filed into the investigation until it is complete.