There are many things we know and don’t know about cougars in the Midwest, Dr. Clay Nielsen of Southern Illinois University Carbondale said during his Endangered Wolf Center Speaker Series appearance Jan. 29, 2015.

Cougar confirmations have increased considerably, he said in his presentation titled “Increasing Presence of Cougars in the Midwest.”

Since August 2003 there have been 150 cougar confirmations in the Midwest. That’s based on hard evidence, such as known mortality, trail cameras, clear photos, Dr. Nielsen said. Sightings aren’t counted because they can’t be verified. Dr. Nielsen noted that people have mistaken photos of bobcats, deer, coyotes, dogs, otters and raccoon for cougars.

Forty-eight people attended the Speaker Series event, which was held at the Living Learning Center at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center. The Endangered Wolf Center is located on the grounds of the Tyson Research Center in Eureka, Mo.

Why are cougars increasing in the Midwest?

It’s part of a natural dispersal from the West.
The Midwest has vacant, suitable habitat
Prey populations are flourishing in the Midwest.
Sub-adult male cougars (18 to 20 months of age) are dispersing from areas such as the Black Hills in search of territory for themselves.
But female cougars disperse in lower numbers and travel far shorter distances than male cougars. And that’s one of the big unknowns about recolonization of the Midwest: Can enough females get here to produce breeding populations?

Among other unknowns is how the public will respond to the presence of cougars.

What do we do in the meantime?
Dr. Nielsen listed a few things:
Don’t be too afraid. Cougar attacks are exceptionally rare.
Prepare! We know enough about what’s going on to do so …
Residents of Midwest states would benefit from educational efforts. There’s some deviation between perception and reality when it comes to cougars, he said.