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DNR confirms mountain lion killed near Bemidji

DNR officers Mark Mathy, on the left, and Mike Hruza show a cougar killed by a motorist south of Bemidji Friday night.(Photo courtesy DNR Enforcement)

Biologists for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have confirmed that an animal hit and killed Friday night by a motorist near Bemidji was a mountain lion.

Authorities said the driver hit the cat about 10:40 p.m. Friday on the Schoolcraft Bridge near the Carr Lake Road on the south side of Bemidji.

Blane Klemek, assistant area wildlife manager for the DNR in Bemidji, said the cat was a young adult female that weighed an estimated 110 pounds. Officers responding to the incident initially transported the cougar to the Beltrami County Sheriff's Department, and the animal was transferred to the DNR's regional wildlife office in Bemidji on Saturday morning.

Klemek was among the DNR staff to confirm the animal was a mountain lion. He said the cat appeared to have been in good health before it was hit. There was no evidence of ear tags, a collar or other markings to suggest the cougar had escaped from captivity, he said, and the cat hadn't been declawed.

"All signs seem to indicate that this particular animal was indeed wild but we don't know that for sure," Klemek said.

The cat was transported Monday morning to the DNR's forest wildlife research office in Grand Rapids, Minn. Klemek said researchers in Grand Rapids will perform a necropsy on the cat, checking its stomach contents to see what she'd been eating, determining the animal's age and whether she had reproduced.

Klemek said there were no obvious signs the cat had had kittens.

"She didn't show any signs that she had been lactating. The mammary glands weren't even visible," Klemek said. "Just looking at the animal, it appears to me that it's a young adult but fully grown."

Researchers in Grand Rapids also will check the mountain lion for parasites, Klemek said. That can be useful information, he said, because cats in captivity will have different parasites than those in the wild.

Klemek said the DNR frequently gets calls from people reporting mountain lion sightings, but the cat killed Friday night was the first to be confirmed in his tenure.

Still, he said there have been confirmed reports elsewhere, including a radio-collared mountain lion that passed through the Roseau River Wildlife Management Area in northwestern Minnesota a few years ago after being spotted west of Grand Forks a couple of weeks earlier.

Most times, Klemek said, confirmed reports tend to be young males that wander east from the Badlands or the Black Hills of South Dakota. But in this case, he said, the fact the cat was a female begs the question of whether Minnesota supports a breeding population.

"The DNR does not deny the fact that lions occur from time to time, but what's not known is if there's a breeding population in the state," Klemek said. "We certainly have the habitat in northern Minnesota. But they tend to require a much broader area for their territories than what Minnesota can offer."