Cougars roam far to make a comeback
Mountain lions, or cougars, are making a big comeback in the United States after a century of decline, conservationists have said.
The big cats are moving far outside their heartland territory in the Midwest, increasing the chances of encounters with humans.
One male cougar from South Dakota was found to have travelled 2,900 kilometres (1,800 miles) through three states before ending up in Connecticut.
Michelle LaRue, from the University of Minnesota, who led a study on the spread of mountain lions, said: "The question now is how the public will respond after living without large carnivores for a century. We believe public awareness campaigns and conservation strategies are required."
Hunting and a lack of prey caused a dramatic decline in the cougar after 1900, leaving small numbers of the animals isolated in the American west.
Three main populations live around the Black Hills in South Dakota, said Ms LaRue. But evidence from sighting of the lions shows they are now venturing much further afield.
"While the distance the Connecticut cougar travelled was rare, we found that cougars are roaming long distances and are moving back into portions of their historical range across the Midwest," said Ms LaRue.
"Our study took in over 3.2 million square kilometres (1.2 million square miles) of territory, confirming the presence of cougars from Texas, Arkansas and Nebraska, to the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba."
The findings, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, cited 178 confirmed reports of cougars in the Midwest. A steady increase in sightings occurred between 1990 and 2008.
When cougar carcasses were recovered, three quarters were found to be male. The research suggests male mountain lions are leading the dispersal of cougar populations.