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Mar 03, 2014 10:43 AM EST

Humans Are Responsible For Nearly 62 Percent Of Cougar Deaths

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Cougars are slowly recolonizing their historic habitats, including the Black Hills of South Dakota, which has become crossed with roads and are home to many human communities, according to new research.

While exploring the fatal cost of human interaction with cougars, researchers from South Dakota State University found humans are responsible for nearly 62 percent of cougar deaths in re-established populations.

"The cougar population in the Black Hills Region is unique, as it is separated by 180 km of prairie and agricultural land from the nearest breeding population," researcher David Thompson from South Dakota State University said in a statement. "Yet, it is a viable population, which is safe from hunting and it has increased in recent decades through natural immigration."

For the study, researchers examined 31 cougars captured between 1999 and 2005. Over the course of 1,570 days, 12 mortalities were recorded. Despite being protected from hunting, nearly 62 percent of cougar deaths were attributed to human influences. A further 85 dead cougars were analyzed during the study, with collisions being the most common cause of death. Snaring and illegal hunting were also identified as causes.

"Our work evaluated the types of mortality that occur in a naturally re-established cougar population on the eastern edge of the current range of the species in North America," Thompson said.

He said his team's findings will be valuable to areas experiencing re-colonization of the species as well as providing insight into regions where human populations overlap with cougars from a management perspective.

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