Special Reports and News
For Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources
DNA Tests Indicate Mountain Lion Trekked Through New York as it Journeyed from South Dakota to Connecticut
A Connecticut Department of Energy and
Environmental Protection (DEEP) scientist
examines the mountain lion that was hit and killed
by a motor vehicle on June 11, 2011 in Milford, CT.
~Photo by CT DEEP
Earlier this month, DNA testing conducted by the DEC Wildlife Pathology Unit indicated that a mountain lion, which was spotted in December 2010 in Lake George, NY, was the same animal that was killed by a motor vehicle in Milford, CT in June this year. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) collected the carcass to perform a necropsy (animal autopsy), which revealed that the lean, 140-pound male was two to four years old, had an empty stomach, and most likely had never spent time in captivity.
Furthermore, DNA test results indicated that the animal had likely traveled over thousands of miles to Connecticut from a known mountain lion breeding population in the Black Hills of South Dakota. His travels were well documented by comparing DNA samples from scat and hair collected from sightings of a mountain lion in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York. This is the longest journey recorded for a mountain lion, and was the first confirmed mountain lion in the state of Connecticut since the 1880s.
Further details on this story can be found below in the DEC Wildlife Pathology Unit Case Report and on the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website by clicking on the "CT Mountain Lion" link in the right hand column of this page.
Mountain Lion in New York - DEC Wildlife Pathology Unit Case Report
(Below are details from the examination of the mountain lion spotted in Lake George, NY in December 2010 and details about its journey from South Dakota to Milford, CT.)
Wildlife Pathology Unit Case #: 100948
Species: mountain lion (hair)
Date received: 12/21/10
Examination date: 12/22/2010
Examiner: K. Hynes
Photograph of mountain lion track taken by
Environmental Conservation Officer Gerrain
on December 17, 2010.
A live mountain lion (a.k.a: cougar, puma) was reportedly observed in the backyard of a resident in Lake George, NY at 8:00 PM on December 16, 2010. The cat was back-tracked through the snow the next day by retired DEC Colonel David Eggleston, and Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) Louis Gerrain from DEC's Region 5 Office. The tracks in the snow were photographed and several hairs were recovered from an apparent bedding site. Fifteen hair samples and 36 photographs of its tracks were submitted to the Wildlife Pathology Unit (WPU) for species identification on December 21, 2010.
Gross Examination Findings
The hairs ranged in length from 9 to 15 mm and tan in coloration with dark black tips. They appeared to be under-fur, no guard hairs were present. The track photos with the yardstick for scale, revealed the footprint as approximately 4-1/4 inches long by 3-1/2 inches wide, with a walking stride of approximately 30 inches. A trilobed heel pad was clearly evident in some footprints.
Microbiology (DNA Testing & Analysis)
Five hairs were sent to Dr. Melanie Culver at the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources on February 9, 2011 for DNA analysis to determine species and sub-species if possible; results are still pending as of the date of this report. Four hairs were sent to Kristine Pilgrim at the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station on July 28, 2011 for DNA analysis to determine species, and to determine if it was the same mountain lion that was killed in Milford, Connecticut on June 11, 2011. Initial results of DNA analysis confirmed the hairs were from a cougar (mountain lion). Subsequent DNA profiling confirmed that the hairs were from the same mountain lion that was killed in Connecticut, and that was previously identified through scat, hair, and blood samples from one site in Minnesota and three sites in Wisconsin in late 2009 and early 2010.
Diagnosis and Comments
The species that was sighted in Lake George was confirmed to be a mountain lion (scientific name: Puma concolor). This sighting turns out to be a part of a remarkable and fascinating case. According to Kristine Pilgrim and Michael Schwartz at the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, the profile of this cat's DNA is most closely related to a breeding population in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota.
Timeline of the Mountain Lions Trek:
- First sighted in eastern Minnesota on December 11, 2009 when DNA analysis confirmed it as a cougar (mountain lion).
- Adrian Wydeven (Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources) reported additional DNA identifications of the same cat were made in St. Croix, Wisconsin in late December 2009, and in Bayfield County, Wisconsin on February 15, 2010.
- On May 20, 2010 a trail camera photographed a young cougar in Oconto County, Wisconsin, and later a trail camera in Michigan's Upper Peninsula photographed what Wydeven believes is the same cat.
- On December 16, 2010, the next known sighting of this cat was in Lake George NY (the subject of this report).
- According to Paul Rego (CT Dept. of Environmental Protection) the cat was spotted several times in Greenwich, Connecticut in early June 2011.
- On June 11, 2011, the cat was hit and killed by a motor vehicle on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford, Connecticut. A necropsy (animal autopsy), performed in Connecticut by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Wildlife Forensic Lab, found an apparently healthy 140 pound male mountain lion in good physical condition; the stomach was empty, there were porcupine quills under the skin; there were no signs of de-clawing or neutering and no sign of a microchip (sometimes implanted in captive or study animals).
Straight line distance from Champlin, Minnesota, where the cat was first identified, to Milford, Connecticut where it was killed is approximately 1,057 miles; breaking a record of a previously recorded mountain lion that traveled a distance of around 663 miles from South Dakota to Oklahoma. This cat may have been born in the Black hills of South Dakota (or possibly to parents that had previously dispersed to the east) and it appears that it traveled through Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and likely southern Ontario, then into New York, and Connecticut; a potential total distance of approximately 1,800 miles.
History of Mountain Lions in New York
Mountain lions were extirpated in New York in the late 1800's and the eastern cougar (a.k.a. mountain lion) was declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March 2011. The last confirmed mountain lion sighting in New York was a 7.5 pound kitten that was shot in Saratoga County on December 31, 1993; the emaciated kitten was approximately three months old and had lesions on the footpads suggestive of captivity on a rough concrete surface. DNA analysis on that cat by Dr. Culver determined it had genes from South American subspecies and was likely an escaped or released captive.
It is interesting to note that this one lone mountain lion passing through New York was detected and confirmed through track photographs and DNA, and also detected and confirmed several times in other states, which is good evidence that if a population of mountain lions lived in the northeastern U.S., they would likely be detected.
More information about these animals in New York can be found on the Eastern Cougar (Mountain Lion) Fact Sheet.
Case Reported by Kevin Hynes, Wildlife Pathology Unit Biologist
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
108 Game Farm Road Delmar, NY 12054
August 16, 2011
Tracing the History of a Deceased Lake Sturgeon in Oswego, NY
On August 2, 2011, a deceased sturgeon measuring 49-1/2 inches long washed ashore near Oswego, NY on Lake Ontario. Staff from the U.S. Geological Survey Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Sciences were working nearby and conducted an examination on the carcass. They gathered biological data on the fish and discovered it had an internal PIT tag that was implanted by Cornell University Biological Field Station researchers in Oneida Lake on July 16, 2004. The tags provide unique identifying numbers to individual fish, offering researchers with information long into the future on movement patterns, growth characteristics, and more. After tagging the fish, the Cornell staff also collected stomach content samples for diet studies and took a fin sample for aging. They aged the fish as nine years old, which traced it back to its date of hatching in 1995, sixteen years ago.
In 1995, the DEC began a lake sturgeon stocking program in an effort to restore an absent spawning population in Oneida Lake. Based on the information collected from this fish, it was easily traced back to its roots at the DEC Oneida Lake Fish Culture Station in Constantina, NY. It came from eggs that were collected and fertilized by DEC staff at the Riviere Des Prairies in Laval, Quebec (near Montreal) on May 8, 1995 and transported to the station where sturgeon are reared and subsequently stocked in several New York waters as part of the lake sturgeon restoration program.
This is the second tagged sturgeon from Oneida Lake known to have migrated to Lake Ontario, a distance of over 50 miles that includes seven canal locks. The cause of this sturgeon's death is not known; however, it is not likely to have died of old age at 16 years. A lake sturgeon caught in 1953 in Lake of the Woods in Canada was aged at 154 years old!
Information about DEC lake sturgeon restoration initiatives can be found by clicking on the "Great Lakes Lake Sturgeon Web-site" link found in the right hand column of this page, or by visiting our Lake Ontario and North Central New York Fisheries Biologist Reports web pages.
Get some quick facts about the largest and longest living freshwater fish in New York on our Lake Sturgeon Fact Sheet web page!
DEC Inspects an Injured Red-Tailed Hawk at New York University
Red-tailed hawks, "Bobby" and "Violet" attend to
their nest at Bobst Library of New York University.
~Photograph courtesy of New York University~
In early May, an adult female red-tailed hawk nesting at New York University (NYU) was observed through a webcam as having a swollen foot. Additionally, the foot appeared to be constricted by an aluminum band that was placed on its leg in 2006 for a research study authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On May 12th, a team of DEC staff and other raptor experts arrived on scene at NYU to analyze and examine the bird's condition. Their day-long analysis resulted in the determination to leave the bird on site and closely evaluate and monitor her health via the webcam and limited direct observation. Complete details about the teams field inspection and their analysis and recommendations for the red-tailed hawk can be found in the assessment report below.
The webcam provided by New York Times: wildlife enthusiasts can monitor the nesting pair of red-tailed hawks, named by viewers as "Violet" and "Bobby." Their nest sits 12-stories high on a window ledge of the Bobst Library at New York University (NYU) in New York City. To watch the nesting bird's with their hatchling, click on the "Hawk Cam" link in the right-hand column of this page, which directs you to the live-streaming video on New York Times City Room webpage.
Final Assessment Report for the Red-Tailed Hawk, "Violet"
Introduction and the Field Team:
On May 12, 2011, the Department of Environmental Conservation led a field inspection at New York University to determine the best and most appropriate course of action concerning a female red-tailed hawk and hatchling nesting on the 12th floor of the Bobst Library building. The team was led by DEC Natural Resources Supervisor Steve Zahn, and included DEC's Wildlife Veterinarian (Dr. Elizabeth Bunting), and raptor experts from DEC (Barbara Loucks and Barbara Saunders), New York City Department of Environmental Protection (Chris Nadareski), and the Raptor Trust NJ (Cathy Malok).
Medical Considerations (Analyzing the Bird's Condition):
On Friday, May 6, 2011, the female red-tailed hawk was observed by members of the public via a webcam having difficulty using her right leg. On that day, one nestling had hatched out of the egg, and there were two other eggs present in the nest, which were potentially not viable. At that time, the hawk had been primarily lying down and brooding the eggs for approximately five weeks.
Image of the bird's swollen foot and the
attached bird band. The team identified
a space between the band and the inside
of the leg, allowing for circulation of
blood to the foot.
~Photo credit: Elizabeth M. Bunting~
The hawk was closely observed by Dr. Elizabeth Bunting through an office window on Thursday May 12, 2011 starting at 07:00 a.m. and continuing throughout the morning. The hawk appeared to be active and alert. She stood and moved around the nest, was able to hold food using the affected foot while feeding herself and her nestling, and several times flew from the nest and returned, landing on both feet. Multiple food items were available in the nest (starling, squirrel, rat, another unidentified bird). Several times she was observed to stand and flex the affected right foot, and hold it under her body. The foot below the band was moderately swollen. There were a few small dried scabs above and below the band, but no visible open wounds or weeping of fluid. There was no foreign material observed entangled around the leg, or on detailed photos that were obtained of her leg and foot. There was no sign of necrotic or discolored tissue that would indicate poor or damaged circulation to her foot or toes. She was able to have good extension and flexion of all the toes, indicating intact tendon and nerve function.
The cause of the fluid accumulation could not be determined from observation; however, based on photos taken on April 6, 2011, and on photos from the previous nesting season dating from March through October 2010, the swelling has been present for some time, suggesting that the condition was not rapidly progressive or acute in nature. Possible explanations for this condition would include fluid retention due to an old resolved injury to her foot or leg (such as a fracture, prey bite or other infection or trauma), an ongoing infection (less likely due to the time frame) and constriction trauma due to the band itself. High resolution video stills of the band showed that there was a space between the band and the inside (medial) aspect of the leg, allowing for circulation to the foot. The behavior of the bird, her willingness to use the foot to bear weight, to land, and to manipulate food, all suggested that she was not in a great degree of distress and was compensating well. .
Operational Considerations (Identifying Modes and Risks of Capture):
Staff evaluated several points of access and modes of capture. Lowering personnel or equipment (such as nets) from the roof proved inadvisable due to the architecture of the building façade and the lack of adequate anchoring points on the roof. Access to the ledge was possible only from the window in the adjacent room; however, there were no adequate anchoring points inside the room making access onto the ledge inadvisable for recovery personnel. This restricted consideration of capture techniques to those that could be extended through the open window toward the nest or could lure the hawk toward the open window.
All the considered capture techniques (nets, traps, luring) carried significant risk of harm to the adult hawk, the chick and in some instances, the recovery staff. The nest is unsecured on a narrow, sloping ledge with no lip, and the hatchling is unable to secure itself within the nest. Should the adult respond aggressively to a capture attempt (as would be expected) and defend the nest, she could send the hatchling or the entire nest over the edge. The adult or its mate could be injured by struggling to escape from a net, trap or recovery staff. Additionally, if capture was successful, the adult could experience trauma while being examined on scene, while having the band removed, or during transport to an off-site location. Thorough medical examination off site, including radiographs and blood testing, was deemed advisable by Dr. Bunting since the cause of her condition was unknown and it would be highly unlikely that the bird could ever be recaptured for another assessment. Given the time an off-site examination would require, any attempt to capture the adult would also require the capture of the hatchling due to its risk of exposure and starvation. The biologists were concerned that the male bird would not necessarily give adequate care to the hatchling. Additionally, the hatchling would be at significant risk of predation while the male left the nest to hunt for food.
Tissue swelling typically worsens when the host remains sedentary, as has been the case in recent weeks during nesting, which may explain why the swelling is more noticeable now. If this is the case, the swelling may lessen with more activity. While it would be medically prudent to remove the band, the team concluded that the substantial risk of injury and death or negative consequences to the bird, her mate, or her hatchling from a capture attempt were too great to justify medical intervention for a condition that the bird is successfully managing. Administration of medications on site was not feasible due to the risk of nest disturbance, the difficulty with ensuring the adult female would have reliable intake, and the possibility of accidental overdose through her feeding of the hatchling.
The hawk should be monitored via web cam and occasional direct observation (to minimize the disturbance to the nest), and action reconsidered if the adult's condition deteriorates noticeably. The team acknowledged that capture of the adult would be increasingly risky for the hatchling until it has fledged (in about six weeks).
"Violet" feeding her hatchling
~Image captured from live
streaming video of the hawkcam,
courtesy of New York Times~
Latest Update (May 13 - May 18)
From Friday, May 13th, 2011, through Wednesday, May 18th, 2011, the bird was observed frequently via the webcam standing for periods of time with her weight distributed to both feet, flying, eating and behaving otherwise normally. The chick appeared to be growing well.