MICHELE NORRIS, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. In June, a mountain lion was spotted in Greenwich, Connecticut, a super upscale bedroom suburb of New York City just across the state line. It's a place where you wouldn't be surprised to find a jaguar of the XJ Supersport variety, but a real four-legged mountain lion or a cougar was something very surprising to see. And a few days later, an animal believed to be the same cat was hit and killed by a car in Milford, Connecticut. Now, what's even more surprising is the news that this mountain lion is believed to have come from South Dakota. It's believed that the cat traveled 1,500 miles from the Black Hills.
And joining us now is Kristy Pilgrim, who is the laboratory supervisor for the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana. She and her team used DNA testing to piece together the mountain lion's path. How do you know the mountain lion came from South Dakota?
KRISTY PILGRIM: Well, we have a genetic database comprised of over 800 individual mountain lions or cougars from various locations all over the west. So we have samples from population from South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, et cetera. And first of all, when we received those tissue samples from the mountain lion killed by the vehicle in Milford, Connecticut, we were able to perform DNA analysis to obtain a unique genetic profile for the animal.
SIEGEL: So, first, you identified the mountain lion that was hit by the car in Connecticut as coming from South Dakota, from the Black Hills, and then it also matched with the traces of a mountain lion in other states between South Dakota and Connecticut.
PILGRIM: Yep, that's absolutely right. So our first test is basically asking the question, genetically, what does this mountain lion that was killed in Connecticut look most similar to? And the answer to that question based on our database is it looks like it came from lions in South Dakota, or it looks most genetically similar to lions in South Dakota. But subsequent to that, we also were looking in our database, which has some individuals that have been detected just through hair and scat samples, not invasive samples that were collected in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin.
And when we compared the data to that, we found a match. We found that this male cougar that was killed in Connecticut was a match to a male cougar that was detected in Minnesota and Wisconsin in December 2009 and into the spring of 2010.
SIEGEL: So somehow between the spring of 2010 and the late spring, early summer of 2011, a year later, it would seem that this particular cougar made it from Wisconsin to Greenwich.
PILGRIM: Yep. That seems correct.
SIEGEL: I mean, obviously, this isn't your field, but one would have to challenge any such results by saying, is it possible?
PILGRIM: Well, you know, I'm not the expert field biologist. But certainly, young male animals and carnivores, in particular, are known to make long-distance treks.
SIEGEL: Have you had a result like this before, a match from such disparate places?
PILGRIM: No, I - not quite like this. Our laboratory was involved in genetic analysis of a different cougar that was actually shot in a suburban neighborhood of Chicago, but that wasn't nearly as far the distances as this particular case with Connecticut.
SIEGEL: Well, that's commuter distance compared to what this mountain lion did. Well, Kristy Pilgrim, thank you very much for talking with us today.
PILGRIM: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: All right. Kristy Pilgrim is the laboratory supervisor for the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana. They identified the mountain lion that was hit by a car and killed in Connecticut last month.
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