A northern Minnesota resident who set a camera outside to monitor deer movements captured a very unusual, and often disputed, sight: a mountain lion walking through the Minnesota woods.
Mountain lions, or cougars, are extremely rare in Minnesota, and the Department of Natural Resources often discounts reports of the animals being spotted. But John Erb, the agency's furbearer expert, said the photo appears authentic.
"My best guess, it's the real deal," he said. "There are certainly no indications it's a captive animal. It's a lean, mean-looking cat."
The DNR gets dozens of mountain lion reports every year, but few sightings of the tawny-colored predators have come with proof.
Bill Berg, a retired DNR wildlife biologist in Grand Rapids, recalled seeing two videos and a few photos of mountain lions in northern Minnesota. But he said it was always difficult to know whether the animals were wild or escaped pets.
"No doubt there's an animal now and then, and I think some of them are wild animals dispersing and some are cats that got too big for the kitty litter," he said.
The digital photo taken Aug. 20 by Floodwood resident by Jim Schubitzke clearly shows the front half of a mountain lion standing next to a stump. Erb said another DNR manager visited the site near Floodwood Lake and confirmed the vegetative background in the photo, providing strong evidence that it is not a fake.
The image was captured about 20 miles north of Floodwood by one of five cameras Schubitzke had set up in the woods. "I was spooked for a couple of days because I was bear-baiting just a couple hundred yards from there," he said. "Now I'm back to normal."
Floodwood is about 40 miles northwest of Duluth.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)