In one of the most exciting wildlife and biology stories to come down the pike in a long time, genetic testing has decisively concluded an adult mountain lion hit and killed on a Connecticut highway in June originated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, some 1,500 miles from where it died.
Officials with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced last week that DNA from a road-killed cougar’s hair and droppings also revealed the same animal that originated in western South Dakota passed through Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2009 and 2010. The distance traveled by the animal was twice that ever recorded for the species, and one of the farthest for any mammal.
Genetic tests also indicated the lion was the same one that had been seen earlier that month in Greenwich, Connecticut, only 30 miles from New York City. It died when hit by a car June 11, 2011, on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford, Connecticut.
It was the first confirmed wild mountain lion in Connecticut in more than 100 years.
“The journey of this mountain lion is a testament to the wonders of nature and the tenacity and adaptability of this species,” said Daniel Esty, head of the state's environmental protection agency. “This mountain lion traveled a distance of more than 1,500 miles from its original home in South Dakota—representing one of the longest movements ever recorded for a land mammal, and nearly double the distance ever recorded for a dispersing mountain lion.”
The genetic tests were conducted by the USDA Forest Service Wildlife Genetics Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. DNA tests indicated that tissue from the Milford mountain lion matched the genetic structure of the mountain lion population in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.
In 2008, a sub-adult mountain lion wearing a tracking collar originating from the same region in South Dakota was killed nearly 600 miles away near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Four years earlier, a collared lion from the Black Hills traveled 666 miles to Oklahoma, where it was hit and killed by a train.
Commissioner Esty stressed that despite the confirmation, there is no evidence to indicate a native breeding population of cougars in Connecticut.