Cougar Network Research.

Research Summary.


Under the direction of Clay Nielsen and Michelle LaRue, the Cougar Network continues to conduct research on the phenomena of cougars recolonizing areas of midwestern North America by tracking verifiable confirmations of individuals and combining those data with GIS and spatial and population viability analysis to understand cougar potential in the 21st century.

The Cougar Network does not support outside scientists wishing to do cougar research. Rather, we conduct our own research.

The Cougar Network is a non-profit organization with 501(c)(3) status, so all financial contributions are tax deductible. The Network is currently pursuing grants for a number of research projects and is always grateful for individual contributions.

Research Goals.


Our primary research goal at The Cougar Network is to track range expansion of cougars into the Midwest and to understand the potential for populations in these areas. Past research has included determining potential habitat for cougars, dispersal corridors, and a comprehensive analysis of nearly 20 years’ worth of confirmation data to show that cougars are, indeed, recolonizing the Midwest. Some of our future work includes:

Cougar Network

Future Goals

Population viability of cougars in the Midwest

  • When will populations become established farther east, if at all?
  • What is the probability that these new populations will survive?

Having an idea of potential for the species will help the public, and state and federal agencies prepare for a possible return on this large predator. Read about it on U of MN, and find the peer-reviewed literature in Ecological Modelling.

Societal values and attitudes toward a large, recolonizing predator

  • How do people feel about cougar conservation or management in areas that may host populations in the future?

The combination of these goals will inform state and federal policy regarding cougar management.

Results from previous research:

LaRue, M.A., C.K. Nielsen. 2015. Population viability of cougars in midwestern North America. Ecological Modelling, in press.

LaRue, M.A., C.K. Nielsen, M. Dowling, K. Miller, B. Wilson, H. Shaw, and C. Anderson. 2012. Cougars are recolonizing the Midwest: Analysis of cougar confirmations during 1990-2008. Journal of Wildlife Management 76:1364-1369. (pdf)

Henaux, V., L.A. Powell, K.A. Hobson, C.K. Nielsen, and M.A. LaRue. 2011. Tracking large carnivore dispersal using isotopic clues in claws: an application to cougars across the Great Plains. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 2:489-499. (pdf)

LaRue, M.A., and C.K. Nielsen. 2010. Modelling potential habitat for cougars in midwestern North America. Ecological Modelling 22:897-900. (pdf)

Davenport, M.A., and C.K. Nielsen. 2010. Attitudes toward mountain lion management in the Midwest: Implications for a potentially recolonizing large predator. Human Dimensions of Wildlife: An International Journal 15:373-388. (pdf)

LaRue, M.A., and C.K. Nielsen. 2008. Modelling potential dispersal corridors for cougars in midwestern North American using least-cost path methods. Ecological Modelling 212:372-381. (pdf)


Simply put, a "cougar confirmation" is a verifiable piece of hard evidence that a cougar was present in an area: carcasses, photos, tracks, scat, or video. Reported sightings of cougars are not included in our database, and we only track confirmations outside of known cougar range (in the North American west and southern Florida, home to the endangered Florida panther).

We've compiled an interactive map to explore all cougar confirmations in the Midwest since 1990. Information includes the location, photographs or video, news stories, and any other evidence and information associated with the confirmation.