I’ve always been a fan of cryptids. When I was young and still a believer, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster fascinated me; now that I’m older and skeptical, I still enjoy reading about cryptids, albeit in completely different ways. So it was that I’ve been following the case of a “real life” cryptid in my home state recently, one that draws an interesting contrast between actual “hidden animals” and those more mythical monsters of cryptid lore.
There once was a permanent population of cougars in Michigan, mainly in the Upper Peninsula. Cougars are dangerous to livestock, however, and occasionally to humans; and so efforts to control or eliminate the predator were undertaken over a century ago. They were successful — the Cougar was officially eliminated in Michigan in the early part of the twentieth century.
But starting in the 1970s, stories began to surface that cougars were being spotted in the state. It began as verbal reports, but soon some blurry photos and even a few rumored track marks began to surface. Some people thought the sightings were misidentifications of wolves or other forest creatures; others thought that any big cat wandering around the state might be escaped pets or zoo animals; a few suggested that the sightings might be an occasional big cat from Canada or Wisconson wandering out of its natural territory But these unconfirmed sightings kept coming, and people began to believe that, just maybe, cougars had returned to Michigan.
If tales of the Michigan Cougar had stopped there, then the story would be no more interesting than Nessie or Bigfoot — and maybe less interesting, since a modern cougar wound never spark the kind of decades-long fervent search that Bigfoot or Nessie have. There haven’t been well-financed expeditions to the forests of the Upper Peninsula in search of the beast, and Leonard Nimoy never did a voiceover for the Mighigan cougar episode of In Search Of.
Yet as the years have gone by, a small core of interested people — hunters, hikers, environmentalists, DNR agents — have done something that all those well financed Nessie hunters and well-geared Sasquatch hunters never have: they amassed actual, fairly unambiguous evidence for the cougar’s existence. Cougar feces, prey carcasses, clearer pictures, even the occasional grainy nighttime video all pointed to the existence of the modern Michigan Cougar.
And then, this past summer, a digital trail camera snapped an incredible photo:Not a blurry night shot of what might be a Bigfoot or a grizzly bear; not a shaky video of rustling foliage that might (or might not) be a creature moving; but a clear-as-day digital image of a cougar stalking through a Michigan forest.
Every biker, hiker, and fisherman nowadays is carrying a camera-equipped smartphone, yet not even a single clear photograph of a Sasquatch or Yeti has ever surfaced. With all the cameras, all the dollars, all the people looking — why hasn’t a photo like this been taken of the Loch Ness Monster? Heck, there’s an entire television crew out there filming in the woods for Sasquatch, yet none of their equipment can come close to this digital snap taken by a lone trail camera in the Michigan wilderness.
The Michigan Cougar was a true cryptid. And since it was real, it played out in a logical way. As methods of detection improved, so too has the trail of evidence, and finally we have enough clear, concrete evidence to say that, yes, the Michigan Cougar is back. It might not have the mystery or allure of a surviving plesiosaur or a hidden hominid. But that’s the point. Real “hidden creatures” aren’t magical or fantastical; they’re real, they’re grounded in the real world, and — if they actually exist — they’re eventually found.