Lansing — State wildlife officials on Thursday confirmed the presence of a cougar in Clinton County, the first sighting of its kind verified in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

An area resident photographed the mountain lion in Bath Township on June 21, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The Haslett man took a photo from his car after spotting it in his headlights as the cougar attempted to cross a road near the Rose Lake State Wildlife Area.

Cougars are an endangered species and they are banned from being hunted in Michigan.

The DNR launched a field investigation after receiving the picture on June 26. Biologists and members of the department’s Cougar Team visited the site and confirmed the animal in the photo was a cougar.

“Even with this verification, questions remain, especially regarding the origins of the animal,” Kevin Swanson, DNR wildlife specialist and member of the agency’s Cougar Team, said in a release.

“There is no way for us to know if this animal is a dispersing transient from a western state, like cougars that have been genetically tested from the Upper Peninsula, or if this cat was released locally.”

The department is encouraging residents to submit pictures of possible sightings for verification and said landowners near Clinton County may want to place trail cams on their properties. Bath Township is north of Lansing and East Lansing.

There have been prior sightings of cougars in the Lower Peninsula, but the DNR wasn’t able to verify them.

In 2012, a former deputy sheriff and another resident reported seeing a mountain lion in the Milford/Kensington Park area in Oakland County. Bobcats are usually found in areas north of Oakland County, and the DNR said people often mistake bobcats for cougars.

But Brenda Weed, a former Pima County, Arizona deputy sheriff, said she encountered a cougar five times.

“I know the difference between a bobcat and a cougar,” Weed told The News at the time. “There’s a big difference between a 50-pound bobcat and this cougar, which must have weighed 150-160 pounds. It had paws the size of dinner plates.”

In 2013, a Genoa Township said he saw a predator kill a deer about four miles outside Howell, but had no evidence the animal was a cougar. A DNR official said the department wouldn’t investigate since there wasn’t evidence such as photographs or tracks.

The odds of encountering a cougar in the wild remain very low, the department said. But if residents should encounter one, the DNR recommends they never run and do not crouch. Rather, face the animal and do not act submissive.

“If attacked, fight back with whatever is available,” according to a release. “DO NOT play dead.”

Cougars were native to Michigan but were driven out of the state more than a 100 years ago. Since 2008, there have been 36 cougar sightings or tracks in Michigan — all in the Upper Peninsula, according to the DNR, which said it has not confirmed any breeding population in the state.

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