Despite reports, animal sighted near Baldwin was a bobcat, not a cougar

LAKE COUNTY — Despite several reports from residents, an animal spotted at the Bray Creek Campground north of Baldwin was not a cougar as many believed. It was a bobcat.

The smaller cats can sometimes resemble cougars if their hair is matted down in unusual ways, but Department of Natural Resources experts confirmed the animal's identity by using several photos of the suspected animal which were taken by area residents.

"We did have an opportunity to review those and determined that it was not a cougar," said Erin Victory, a wildlife biologist with the DNR. "We sent the photos up to our cougar team, the same DNR staff that have confirmed photos of cougar in the Upper Peninsula in the last couple years, and they said this cat was likely a bobcat in summer coat or a domestic cat. There were several photos of the cat looking at the camera, and you could see that the nose and chin were too narrow, the ears to large in proportion to its face. Additionally, the vegetation height was not proportionate for a cat the size of a cougar."

In fact, there has never been a confirmed cougar sighting in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Bobcats, said Victory, are relatively common.

"The only wild cat species we have in the Lower Peninsula is bobcat," remarked Victory. "Despite sighting reports, the DNR has not confirmed the presence of cougar in the Lower Peninsula to date. A reported sighting is not the same thing as confirmation of physical evidence by the DNR, which is what we require to make that determination. That would include tracks, photos, videos or scat that gets submitted to the DNR for evaluation."

Bobcats are generally easy to identify due to their distinctive fur.

"Bobcats are a medium sized cat, ranging in size from 20 to 30 pounds, and stand about a foot and a half high at the shoulder," explained Victory. "True to their name, they have a short, or bobbed tail, about 6 inches long. They are most notably identified by facial ruffs of hair and tufted ear tips. They can range in color from gray to reddish brown, and usually have some kind of spotting, though sometimes spots are only seen on their undersides."

Unlike cougars, bobcats rarely pose a threat to people or pets. If spotted, the DNR says the best precaution is to give it plenty of room and view it only from afar.

"Bobcats are not considered to be dangerous, and are generally pretty secretive and keep to themselves. The only time a bobcat would pose a threat, as with any wildlife, would be if one felt cornered, or if they were protecting their young. In these cases, it’s always best to back away from the animal and give it plenty of space. Sometimes people can have nuisance encounters with bobcat, in the case of free range chickens or a den site on their property, and for those occasions a call to the local DNR office would provide some suggestions on what a homeowner can do. Otherwise, a rare bobcat sighting is something to enjoy and appreciate here in the northern woods!"