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A cougar was found dead near where two interstates meet in Bloomington in what state conservation officials say is an extremely rare verified instance of the big cat turning up in the Twin Cities area.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recovered the adult male cougar about 6:45 Tuesday morning and said it apparently was hit by a vehicle on eastbound Interstate 494 near the exit to northbound I-35W.

The 115-pound animal was taken to the DNR wildlife research office in Grand Rapids, where it will undergo a necropsy, the agency said.

“The necropsy may help determine, among other things, if it’s wild and where it might have originated,” DNR spokesman Harland Hiemstra said Wednesday.

So far, Hiemstra said, examiners have found “no obvious indication it was captive. [It] has all claws, no external tags or marks, etc.”

The next moves are to have a tooth tested for aging and submit a DNA sample from the cougar to determine its genetic background, “which usually can tell us from what population it or its mother originated. Most have come from the Black Hills” of South Dakota, he said.

Since 2004 and through the end of 2018, the DNR has tallied 31 verified cougar sightings in Minnesota. One of those was in the Twin Cities area, in 2009 in Ramsey County, the DNR said.

The agency has yet to figure out how the cougar ended up in such an unlikely spot and says there is no evidence that Minnesota has a self-sustaining, breeding cougar population, as there are in the western reaches of North Dakota and South Dakota.

Tammy Thies, executive director of the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn., said that “we’ve seen it go both ways, whether it’s wild or someone’s escaped pet. It would be rare if it’s wild, but it’s not unheard of. ... We are at the time of year when they are transient.”

Thies said her sanctuary has about 18 cougars right now, and she confirmed that all are accounted for.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482