Michigan’s Mauling Mystery Cats

Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 6th, 2008

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources insists it was not a cougar that recently mauled a 900-pound horse in Rives Township near Jackson. Okay, then what?

Mystery felids or some other kinds of animals appear to be attacking horses in Michigan. The Detroit Free Press published a good overview article today, which you can find here.

As the reporter says, “Indisputable scientific evidence is scarce … making the Michigan cougar truly a UFO — or Unidentified Furry Creature.”

The images with the article speak volumes:

Dr. Robert Sray stitched up 10-year-old Daydream after the horse was mauled Sept. 16 in a pasture near Jackson County. Sray, who’s treated animals for 40 years, said he’s certain the attacker was a cougar, also known as a mountain lion.

Daydream’s wound required 30 stitches. “We do not believe this was a cougar attack,” a Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman said. “We don’t know what it is from.”

John Darlington’s 20-year-old horse, Shawna, was found with a gash on her side in the same pasture where another horse was attacked. Darlington of Lansing says he’s sure it was a cougar.

Photos by Mike Wendland/Detroit Free Press

Thanks for the tip from S. Royce.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

40 Responses to “Michigan’s Mauling Mystery Cats”

  1. shumway10973 responds:

    There are only so many creatures out there that will take on a horse. Cougars have been known to, and grizzly bears are the only other north american animal I know with the attitude and body size to do this. Your average canine would not be able to accomplish that kind of wound. Wolverines have the attitude, but can’t reach that high without a step ladder. One thing I do know is that not far from there in Illinois the deer are absolutely thriving like nowhere else, and deer are the main food group for cougars. Where there’s a lot of deer, there’s cougars. The only problem is that cougars are solitary animals and have huge territories. Those kicked out of Illinois will have to go somewhere else, and Michigan isn’t that far away for a cougar.

  2. RyanWinters86 responds:

    Why cant they just accept that cougars live in Michigan??

  3. pcs800 responds:

    I live in michigan’s “thumb” area, I have a friend who swore up and down he saw some large cat cross a major highway on his way to work one morning. Another case would be some pictures I have of some strange animals walking across my back yard, like a small pack of 5 or so. Most likely not cats but unidentifiable none the less.
    I will send them in to cryptomundo and maybe you guys can have a guess at what they are.

  4. roadengineer responds:

    Your map greatly reduces the number of sightings. I lve by Hesperia & have seen a big cat, about 5 feet long near McClaren Lake. There are reliable witnesses that claim there are Cougars in the Silver lake area. Nearly every year there are reports of these big cat sightings by deer hunters.

  5. coelacanth1938 responds:

    I’m nowhere an expert in claw marks, but shouldn’t there be more than “one” groove there?

  6. cryptidsrus responds:

    I tend to agree with you, Shumway10973.

    Poor horses. Loss of habitat sure is horrible, isn’t it???

    Could be one of of the oft-mentioned “whatsits,” though.

  7. sschaper responds:

    Looks like a cougar attack! My Aunt in Montana keeps horses, and I’ve seen pictures.

    Michigan is natural territory for them, the’ve been back in Minnesota for years, and Michigan is just across the top of Wisconsin from Minnesota. Now, in troll country, they’ve have to cross the bridge, or come up through Illinois. But cougars are in Iowa and one was killed in Illinois recently, if I’m not mistaken. When you consider their huge range, and how far they tend to wander, why wouldn’t it be cougars?

    As to deer, I don’t know about “nowhere else” farmers around here call them “big rats” because they are so numerous that they are doing damage to crops.

  8. aarona4 responds:

    i live in michigan, genesee county. and i know a family who lives near me who has seen a cougar here in michigan and has good photographs of the animal in their backyard. i havent seen them in a while though. i think in one of the pictures it is standing next to a tent and you can see how big it is.

    i will try to get my hands on the pictures soon.

  9. Bob K. responds:

    While I’m certain that the large paws of a mountain lion-sharp claws ‘n’ all-do cause some nasty damage, would a large, long tear down the thigh of the horse be consistent with a cougar attack? Has this pattern and placement of damage been seen on mountain lion attacks on wild or domestic prey before? I would assume that the worst injuries suffered in a presumed cougar attack on a horse would be found in the area of the back/withers and forward.

  10. Lonewolf 9390 responds:

    I live in Michigan, and YES we DO have big cats here, despite what the DNR is saying to the contrary. I know a cougar or a panther when I see one. I’ve seen several over the past few years. The DNR claims there’s no evidence to support the idea of a cougar population in Michigan. People have pictures, footprints, etc, etc. What more evidence does the DNR need?

  11. Wiseman responds:

    Hmmmm… something is not right. If this is a cougar attack the cat is pretty funny. Let me explain ; cougar are natural enemies to deers and have evolved to efficiently kill them by attacking their neck. We could say that an horse would look like a deer for them so why does the horse only have mark to his back section. Even when attacking humans cougars aim for the head.

    This method look like a lion even if this is very not likely.

  12. Richard888 responds:

    I agree with coelacanth1938. If this was a skid by a cougar paw, why aren’t there more than one grooves?

  13. prestonshark responds:

    big cats can be scary killing your livestock.

  14. sschaper responds:

    Bob K, that is exactly what cougar attacks on horses look like, if I’m remembering my Aunt’s snapshots correctly.

    I don’t know why only one tear, but that fits what I remember.

    A horse might start and try to run away. Cougars didn’t only eat deer.

  15. Spinach Village responds:

    could of been the middle claw (the longest one) that sunk in the most as the horse took off running (and possibly kicked backwards) …

    Most cat claws are retractable so if only the middle claw made it through the skin before the horse took off and the cat simultaneously started to curl its claws then i think a wound like that is possible…

    a black bear could do that too but even more unlikely IMO

    i take them at there word

  16. hudgeliberal responds:

    Sure looks like a cat attack to me. Its taken from behind and the gash is exactly where a cougar would place its paws if attacking from behind. I grew up in southern WV and saw a cougar while traveling home from the Carolinas in 2001…as clear as I see my monitor now. It was a cougar without a doubt so I know that a few are still stalking the Appalachians and I have a feeling with our ever expanding deer population,they str beginning to thrive. I sure hope so. Absolutely magnificent animal. If they can ever stop the destruction of our mountains by mountaintop removal mining,we could see our woods abundant with all types of wildlife. It is possible but if the mining companies keep blowing the tops off the mountains there will be none left. I believe that the cougar is in more states than what the statistics currently show. The funny thing,all of the seniors around this area and some of my family members(including my late father)have told of “black panthers” roaming the hills back in the day. My father was stringing cable deep in the mountains back in the early days of cable television and recalls being paced by a huge black cat. “I could never catch him walking but every time I would look back he would be sitting but a few yards closer” I recall Dad telling me. My father was not the type to even tell a white lie. Many other people talk about these black cats,yet according to scientists and the DNR there has never been a black cougar. Strange.

  17. dambert responds:

    I believe I read several years ago that Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources have found cougar droppings in Northern Ontario.

    Now the Royal Ontario Museum states on their website: “There have been hundreds of sightings of cougars in Ontario over the years, and their presence here is generally acknowledged. Cougars in northern Ontario are of unknown origin.”

    Wikipedia does not mention Northern Ontario as being one of the current habitats of cougars, but the ROM does. Go figure.

    Although Ontario neighbours Michigan, only so by Lake or River. It does share a land border with Minnesota.

  18. wtb1 responds:

    RyanWinters86 wrote ~ “Why cant they just accept that cougars live in Michigan??”

    Simple really.


    That’s all they need. And a few long single gashes on two sides, as opposed to four gashes that a claw would make, hardly points to a big cat.

    And, from the article ~ “…the National Park Service spent months driving hundreds of miles of park roads and trails looking for proof of big cats.
    Motion-detecting field cameras captured the images of 22 bobcats, 300 coyotes and 40 red fox, as well as striped skunk, river otter, mink and weasel, but no cougars.”

    What else would you have them do? Tell everyone, ‘Well we have a lot if sightings and some animal wounds, so we, the state of Michigan, declare them to be here, wild, and with a breeding population’

    That would be irresponsible.

  19. Insanity responds:

    I live in Kalamazoo County, and a my friend of mine who is a big time outdoors man, claims to have seen tracks, scat, and deer carcasses in trees in the western side of the state. He lives in Van Buren County, so I assume it is within that county or Berrien County where he claims to seen this. Cougars are the only animal to my knowledge that drag deers into trees.

  20. Spinach Village responds:

    To wtb1:

    Sorry, but by you only mentioning this latest case as “evidence”, it shows that you have a lot of catching up to do.

    This latest case is just the tip of the iceberg.

    I could go on and on about evidence, but i would rather let u research it yourself so that i can cut down on my typing time 🙂

    Anyhow the ‘White Tail Deer’ population is booming, not just Michigan, but alot of midwest states… as many have mentioned.

    It makes perfect rational sense for large predators to use there instincts to find these food sources and live by them…

    The argument that Cougars don’t exist in the midwest and east is very very old. It just doesin’t fly anymore. Cougars living, breeding and even thriving in those parts of the country is one of the worst kept secrets regarding the North American Outdoors right now.

    to believe what the DNR says is like drinking some super sugary ‘kool aid’ …

    The argument is political and maybe thats what we should start to focus on more. yeah’ Cougar politics…

  21. RyanWinters86 responds:

    wtb1….Do all these eyewitness accounts mean nothing??

  22. JoelleS responds:

    As the reporter says, “Indisputable scientific evidence is scarce … making the Michigan cougar truly a UFO — or Unidentified Furry Creature.”

    Um…Did I miss something? Shouldn’t that be UFC? Or are the mystery cat sightings now linked to outer-space and secret government agencies?

  23. Andrew Minnesota responds:


  24. wtb1 responds:

    Spinach Village ~“It just doesin’t fly anymore.”

    But it does still fly. There has to be undeniable proof. Cougars may well exist here in Michigan. My point is that until the agencies that matter accept the evidence they require it’s a moot issue. Scratch marks, no matter how many, and eyewitness “accounts” (notoriously unreliable) no matter how many, is not direct, factual evidence. And to save us both typing, I have read the “evidence” too.

    RyanWinters86 ~ “Do all these eyewitness accounts mean nothing??”
    No. State agencies don’t declare living breeding populations of animals to exist because a bunch of people said so and there’s claw marks too. For example: Please see Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Jersey Devil/Loch Ness.

  25. PhilMinn responds:

    River otter….Definitely

  26. greenfoot responds:

    I’ve had horses for 25 years and worked for a large animal veterinarian, so I’ve seen quite a few serious injuries to horses. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying, “A horse is born looking for a way to die”. These look like self inflicted injuries to me. Horses are accident prone and if there is anything at all capable of injuring them they seem to be able to find a way to make it happen.

  27. DreamKeeper responds:

    I live in the Pinky of Michigan, and if anyone says there are no cougars in Michigan I swear to God I will slap the crap out of them. EVERYONE around here believes there are cougars in Michigan, and I bet half of the population knows someone who has seen a cougar. There is even a cougar warning sign in the Sleeping Bear Sandunes! If there are no cougars in Michigan, why do we have “beware of cougars” signs???

  28. kittenz responds:

    I believe that these wounds were either accidentally self-inflicted, by horses getting cut up in barbed wire, or, what is (sadly) more likely, deliberately inflicted by people. They look more like knife wounds than anything. Probably a bunch of drunk kids on a joyride caught the horses out and went after them with knives. Those wounds do not look like wounds that a big inflicts.

    For those who think that those things don’t happen – I can tell you, they do. Just last year in Pike County KY where I live, two teenaged boys on a joyride ran down a small herd of horses that belongs to Breaks Interstate Park, and shot the horses up. Just shot them and shot them over and over for no reason. Some of the horses were shot more than 50 times. They gave no reason for it. Most of the horses survived, but some had to be put down, and one of them, an old mare, was blinded. These were very trusting horses that were being kept in their off-season meadows. They are used in season for trail riding in the canyon.

    I knew one of the boys, and as far as I know, he had never tried to harm any animals before that, although he had had some issues with depression and a broken home.

    Someone could have chased these horses down the same way, come up beside them in a truck, and then swiped and slashed them with a knife.

    I believe that there are pumas in Michigan. I used to live in Allegan County and it’s a lovely rural area with great puma habitat. But the wounds on these horses, at least the ones I see in the photos, do not look like an animal attack. They do, however, look like knife wounds.

  29. SOCALcryptid responds:

    The problem I have is that there is one scratch mark. If a cougar was to attack, you would see at least three to five scratch marks. Not one gaping scratch. Remember they have five retractable claws on each paw for gripping while attacking. Their teeth are used for the kill. I am not saying that they do not exist in Michigan. What I am saying is this does not look like a typical cougar attack. Being from southern California, I have seen a lot of attack victims and the damage these cats cause.

    I feel that it was done by some idiot with a knife. Looks more like a knife wound to me.

  30. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    I agree, the wounds look more like accidental barbed-wire wounds or something to that effect, just doesn’t look like wounds that I would expect to see from a cougar attack. It could be the result of a knife wound, but the horse slipping while against a barbed wire fence seems likely too. I’m no expert, that just my opinion. They didn’t say anything really about the other horse’s wounds, nor did anyone witness the attack or claim to have heard the call of a big cat or see any tracks, so I’m of the impression that calling it a cougar attack is just jumping to conclusions.

  31. wtb1 responds:

    1. Is there a population of wild cougars in Michigan?

    Cougars, also called mountain lions, were originally native to Michigan, but were extirpated from Michigan around the turn of the century. The last known wild cougar taken in the state occurred in 1906 near Newberry. There have been periodic reports of cougar sightings since that time from various locations in Michigan. This situation is not unique to Michigan, and has been occurring in many other mid-western and eastern states as well.

    In 2004, a hair sample was collected from a vehicle bumper and tested using DNA analysis. That sample was positively identified as cougar.

    A recent study based on DNA analysis of scat samples was conducted by Central Michigan University and the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy. That study showed that samples from eight locations tested as positive as cougars.
    The additional types of physical evidence that would normally suggest cougars, such as carcasses and verified photos and tracks have not been documented in Michigan.

    2. Are cougar sightings by themselves evidence that cougars are here?

    No. Most state wildlife agencies, including the Michigan DNR, rely on physical evidence such as carcasses, DNA evidence, tracks, photos, and other sign verified by experts to document the presence of cougars.

    MI DNR Source.

  32. Spinach Village responds:

    The 2 camps are firmly entrenched 🙂

  33. pitbulllady responds:

    While I don’t doubt the existence of cougars in Michigan, or many other places of their “former” range where they’re supposedly now extinct, I DO seriously doubt that the injuries to this horse were caused by a cougar. I’ve seen how big cats attack, having kept exotic cats myself, and a cat with claws, even a small cat, will leave multiple parallel slash marks, and most often, bite marks as well. A single long ragged tear is just not consistent with a cat attack. I’ve also been around enough horses to know that a horse is a walking accident; they seem to go out of their way to get hurt, and can manage to injure themselves on things that most folks would never suspect to cause harm. A sharp object protruding from a stable wall, like a nail, a piece of loose tin, and of course, barbed wire, often do cause injuries like this to horses. I wouldn’t rule out a HUMAN cause, either; as someone else pointed out, a knife wielded by a messed-up person can most definitely do this sort of damage. The only animal that I’ve actually known to create that type of injury to a horse is a wild boar, but they will target a horse’s underbelly and I’ve never seen a hog that can reach that far up on a horse, so I’m really not confident at all that another animal did this, other than possibly a TWO-LEGGED animal.

  34. opin responds:

    We are having the same problem in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources continues to state there are no Cougars in Ohio despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

    The latest Ohio sighting occurred less than 30 miles from my home:

  35. Spinach Village responds:

    For some reason i find this to be a fun discussion…

    ok, im not sure that a knife wielding crazy maniac would get away with slashing a horse like that …

    if that were the case then he or she might drunk or something …

    doesn’t that hypothetical villain run a high risk of getting kicked to scrambled eggs or even trampled?

    i have a couple cats and im sure many here do also… i have sustained many single scratch marks over the years…

    sometimes i wake up with single scratch marks … i’m sure others will concur

  36. freezintooshey responds:

    Long time lurker here, but had to comment.
    I live in the upper peninsula of Michigan and there have been many cougar sightings in the area.
    Even after all of this, the DNR still denies cougars, I think they always will. Unfortunately they are not too bright. Hence the moose mother shot in Ishpeming a few days ago. Anyway, this is my two cents.

  37. kittenz responds:

    Spinach Village,

    I’ve received lots of single scratches from cats too. But when a cat is hanging onto another, bigger animal, trying to kill it, it hangs on with everything it’s got and there are usually multiple deep raking scratches.

  38. prestonshark responds:

    I believe that this so called cougar is actually a CRYPTID panther.

  39. Scari responds:

    must have been a normal house cat then, obviously they don’t want to admit cougars because of the panic it might set off.

  40. eternalgravity responds:

    I live in West Virginia. The state was in denial of both black bears and coyotes for a long time after the locals were positive of their existence in the state.
    They were still denying the coyotes long after we shot and killed one attacking our draft cross horses.

    Cougars in upper WV, well it’s still a little shaky with the locals. I’ve seen tracks of what I suspect might be one. They were old, weathered. A man driving past claims to have seen one in our lower field. Not a bobcat. A cougar.

    I assumed this happened in October. I actually had a mare attacked by a buck. Yes, a deer. We used to have round bails for the horses. People would joke about the ring of deer keep the horses from the hay. Well Kit decided she’d had enough, tried to push through. Buck sliced her from shoulder to elbow.

    I don’t rule out idiot humans either. I’ve had my fairshare of incidents with them.

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