Published December 01, 2008, 12:00 AM

DNR disputes cougar sighting claims

By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

A deer shot north of Duluth that was said to be ravaged by a cougar showed no evidence of a cougar eating it, according to two biologists who conducted a necropsy on the deer carcass.

But the biologists said they did see signs that a large carnivore — a wolf, dog, bear or possibly a cougar — possibly grabbed the deer by the throat after it was shot.

John Erb, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wolf research biologist, said none of the deer was eaten by a carnivore and that nearly all of the visible damage to the deer was done by a hunter’s bullet and knife.

“There is absolutely nothing about that deer that would tell me a cougar or any other animal had eaten on it,’’ Erb said. “The only question is, how did the holes get in the upper throat?’’

The News Tribune reported hunter Ron Smith’s story that he shot and wounded a deer Nov. 10 on property owned by Ted Klein near Culver, Minn. After waiting to pursue the wounded deer, the men said, they tracked it down. And Klein said he saw two cougars circling the kill as the men field-dressed the deer.

The hunters and friends provided several photographs of the deer carcass that appeared to show extensive damage to the deer caused by the cougar.

But Erb said nearly all of that damage was caused by the hunter who field-dressed the animal, while damage to the hind leg was caused by the initial rifle shot. Erb said he can’t explain why the hunters would have damaged a large chunk of the deer’s rib cage and taken its hide off during field dressing. But he insisted that the damage wasn’t caused by a cougar or any other wild animal.

Klein, however, isn’t backing off what he says he saw that day in the woods. He said he’s sure it was cougars.

“We see cougars all the time, I know they’re here,’’ Klein said, noting that his wife also has seen cougars several times on the property. “If the DNR is saying they aren’t here, that’s just B.S.’’

In addition to helping Erb conducting the necropsy, biologist Steve Loch of Babbitt went to the site where the dead deer was found. Both Loch and Erb interviewed Klein.

They say it’s unclear what happened that morning in the woods.

“I can tell you after talking to him that it’s pretty clear the hunter never actually saw two cougars at the site’’ of the dead deer, Erb said. “He heard something and thought he saw part of something else … . But I can’t say a cougar wasn’t there.’’

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