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Amazing journey: Wild mountain lion trekked across America

By the CNN Wire Staff
After journeying 1,500 miles, the mountain lion died in June when an SUV struck it on a Connecticut highway.
After journeying 1,500 miles, the mountain lion died in June when an SUV struck it on a Connecticut highway.
  • The mountain lion was sighted in several states
  • It was struck and killed by a car in Connecticut in June
  • Tests show that it came all the way from South Dakota
  • It was the longest journey ever recorded for a mountain lion in America

New York (CNN) -- He was one cool cat, trekking halfway across America before meeting an untimely death by car on a Connecticut parkway.

The 1,500-mile feline journey is a "testament to the wonders of nature and the tenacity" of the species, said Daniel Esty, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

It was one of the longest known movements ever recorded for a land mammal and nearly double the distance for a mountain lion, the agency said.

There had been sightings of the large cat in Greenwich, Connecticut, its presence an anomaly in a state where none has been seen in more than a century.

Sadly, it was the cat's death that helped tie everything together.

A 2006 Hyundai Tucson SUV hit and killed the animal in the very early hours of June 11. Police were informed of a collision between a vehicle and a mountain lion in the northbound lane, near exit 55, of Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford.

A necropsy and genetic tests revealed the cougar's origins and travels, the Connecticut environmental agency said. The young, lean cat hailed from the Black Hills of South Dakota, making its way east 18 months ago in search of a mate or perhaps for food.

Normally, the majestic male cats don't wander beyond 100 miles while looking for female partners or prey. But this one kept going, through Minnesota and Wisconsin, where its sightings were recorded and DNA evidence collected from droppings, blood and hair.

In Wisconsin, biologists dubbed the animal the "St. Croix Mountain Lion," after the first county where a sighting was confirmed.

The cat was not neutered or declawed, the necropsy showed, meaning that it was probably not a captive animal that escaped or was released. It also had porcupine quills stuck in the tissue under its skin, indicating that it had spent some time in the wild.

Analysis of an extracted tooth could help determine a precise age for the cat, believed to have been between 2 and 5 years old.

Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the Connecticut environmental agency, said the cougar's body was frozen to preserve it for further testing. Wildlife experts were still examining the cat, including the contents of its stomach.

They could still learn more in the days ahead.

The episode has also sprouted hope that more mountain lions will migrate east. This could be the start of a new population of cougars in the Northeast, said John Kostyack, vice president of wildlife conservation for the National Wildlife Federation.

"Everyone I've talked to is just really excited about this," he said. "You hear of marine species traveling around the world, but as far as land animals traveling 1,500 miles, that is extremely rare."

The amazing journey is a reminder, Kostyack said. "We still have a lot to learn about these animals."

CNN's Nina Golgowski contributed to this report.