Anatomy of a Real Cryptid Case

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:

[Photo originally appeared on the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy website.]

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.

About Alison Hudson

Alison is an educator and freelance creator living in Dearborn, MI.
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9 Responses to Anatomy of a Real Cryptid Case

  1. Anonymous says:

    Someone from Clayton NY posted the same picture claiming it was in the Adirondacks. It was shared a few thousand times before someone did a google image search. It is still being shared on Facebook as “proof” that mountain lions are in the Adirondacks.

    • Brian Hudson says:

      I didn’t know that. Thanks for sharing!

      • Anonymous says:

        There IS a parallel to this up in the Adirondacks of NY. For years people have been claiming to see “panthers.” But the official line is still that such creatures died out in the Adirondacks many many decades ago and have not returned.

  2. Freke1 says:

    So it took from 1970 to 2012 to produce a clear proof of a cougar, right? Guess there is still hope for Bigfoot no?

    • Brian Hudson says:

      No, there have been several, in fact, along with other lines of evidence; I make note of it in the paragraph prior to the picture. The point was that lines of evidence have been BUILDING since the 1970s, and this pic is just an impressively clear culmination of those lines of evidence. It’s the exact opposite of Bigfoot, where sightings and photos and such seem to be DECREASING in frequency as methods of detection improve.

  3. Cat MacKinnon says:

    i JUST saw a show on PBS (an episode of ‘Nature’, i think) that had a whole segment on the Michigan cougars. it was really cool, and they’ve got even more footage including night vision stills and video.

    you’re right about everyone having a camera, though. that’s what gets me about the bigfoot hunters and their kind: the ubiquitousness of even cheap cellphones with decent cameras is making it harder for them to “prove” their point. you’d think that SOMEONE, even with a crappy cellphone, would’ve taken a better-looking photo of Bigfoot by now. even low-end 2MP cameras on budget cellphones will take decent outdoors daylight shots, certainly far better than the grainy and blurry “photos” they’ve been passing around for years now…unless, of course, they’re like ghosts and only come out at night for some inexplicable reason;)

    and let’s not forget the awesome (and inexpensive) cameras like GoPro’s and Contours that a huge percentage of mountain bikers, dirt bikers and ATV riders have. i suppose the believers would make the point that Bigfoots (feets?) are scared off the by the noise, but so are bears, mountain lions and deer and people still occasionally get footage of them.

    even with the millions of acres of undeveloped land in the US, i have a really hard time believing that something as large as a Bigfoot could exist without any solid evidence. the hundreds of thousands of people that use that land recreationally every year, combined with almost universal ownership of inexpensive, high-quality digital photography gear means that there should be at least a few clear photos or videos of Bigfoot by now…if it existed, of course. i guess it’s a little ironic that the widespread use of this gear is actually making it MORE difficult for the Bigfoot hunters to prove their point!

  4. Freke1 says:

    ok, I guess UFO’s also don’t exist then. It’s all in people’s mind. Help me solve this:

  5. Seth says:

    Wow I am from Michigan too, I have always loved studying cryptids. One in particular look up Michigan dog man and Beast of Bray Road

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