Updated: U-M Police: Possible cougar spotted on North Campus
Editor's note: The story has been updated to include information about a second possible sighting Thursday afternoon.
The University of Michigan Department of Public Safety is alerting the public that an animal described as a “possible cougar” was spotted Thursday near Hubbard Road between Green Road and Stone Road.
While it would be very unusual for a cougar to make its way into Washtenaw County, department of public safety spokeswoman Diane Brown urged caution when being in the area.
“If it is something, it could potentially be problematic,” Brown said. “Even if it’s just a large cat or dog, it’s technically on the loose and that’s not a good idea either.”
Police officers and housing security searched the area after the report came in at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, but the “suspicious animal” was not found, according to Brown.
However, a second sighting was reported to police during the afternoon, Brown confirmed. Officers have gone back out to the area and were searching for tracks as of 3:40 p.m. Thursday, she said.
Brown said at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday that the second sighting was likely not a cougar. She said the second animal was described as black with a patch of white fur, while the first animal was described as tan.
Officers searched the area and did not find any tracks, she said.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been in contact with the department, Brown said.
There have been rumors of cougar sightings in Michigan during the past few years, but usually in rural areas. According to the DNR’s website, the cougar was originally native to Michigan but hunted to the point that the population in the state disappeared.
Adam Bump, a bear and furbearer specialist with the DNR, said the DNR has never verified a cougar sighting in the Lower Peninsula, but has done so 10 times in the Upper Peninsula. Bump said there have been sightings reported in every Michigan county, but most lack physical evidence and when physical evidence is found, it usually can be attributed to a different animal.
“There’s a lot of reports with no physical evidence,” Bump said. “There’s been eyewitnesses but no pictures of the cat or of tracks or anything like that.”
Bump said it’s possible that cougars can be confused with bobcats, coyotes and even large house cats when seen from far away.
Wild cougars rarely — if ever — wander into populated areas, Bump said. It’s possible that someone could be keeping a cougar as a pet illegally and the pet got loose, but a cougar that is not disoriented or lost won’t usually come near people, he said.
Brown told residents to be wary of having small children and pets in the area. She said bicyclists should also be on the lookout when riding through the area.
Cougar sightings in southeastern Michigan are rare and almost never verified by the DNR. However, they're not unheard of — two years ago, reports of cougars being seen in Novi and Troy made headlines.
Update: It did not take long for the already-named North Campus Cougar to become Internet famous. Within minutes, "North Campus" was trending on Twitter regionally and — as is standard when animals are spotted in this area (see: The Dexter Bear) — at least two Twitter accounts for the animal were set up.