Caledonia, Wis. (AP) – Anna Lashley can’t forget her surprise
when she looked out her kitchen window three years ago and spotted
a big cat.
“I looked up and there’s this lion in the backyard, and I
thought it must have gotten away from the zoo,” she said. “I called
the zoo, and they said they hadn’t lost one.”
She’s convinced the animal that quickly departed was a cougar,
also known as a mountain lion. The animals were wiped out in most
of the eastern U.S. a century ago but have recently shown up again,
migrating from the Black Hills of South Dakota into places like
Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Deer commonly graze on Lashley’s rural property just south of
Milwaukee. During the past three years, she has seen cougars from
her window several times. Her 47-year-old son, Joel Lashley, said
he was there for the most recent sighting on March 28.
“It was a big one,” he said, estimating the cat was bigger than
a German shepherd, with a tail about half as long as its body.
“It turned to the side and then just leaped right through
there,” he said, pointing to the row of pine trees at the edge of
The Lashleys aren’t alone in their encounters with the cats.
State game managers get scores of reported sightings each year.
They try to determine which are false, which are other animals,
such as bobcats, and which are cougars.
Only two cougars have been confirmed. One was seen and left
clear tracks in the snow in the Milton area of Rock County in
January 2008. It was killed that April by police in a Chicago
alley, some 100 miles away.
Bear hunters treed the second near Spooner in Barron County in
March. An attempt to tranquilize it and attach a tracking collar
failed, and the animal ran off.
Along with reported sightings have come suspicions mountain
lions might have injured two young horses.
Gary and Sandy Kenner of Chippewa Falls suspect a cougar mauled
their 3-month-old colt last summer before the mare interceded.
“We came out, and he had a big bite out of his chest and
terrible scratches on its legs,” Gary Kenner said. The colt
Jim and Amanda Saxby of rural Watertown had the same suspicions
about the death of their yearling quarter horse in January.
In both cases, investigators from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture ruled out a cougar and suggested something else,
possibly fencing, caused the injuries.
But both couples have their doubts after hearing many people
tell of seeing cougars.
“There’s just too many sightings,” Sandy Kenner said. “You can
deny it all you want, but when that many people have seen them,
they have to be there.”
The stories are familiar to Ken Jonas, a wildlife biologist
supervisor with the state Department of Natural Resources in
He said the DNR has no interest in trying to conceal how many
cougars are in Wisconsin. But the only way to confirm sightings is
with photos, good tracks or other physical evidence. In the case of
the confirmed sightings, blood, hair, urine and droppings were
Cougars once lived throughout the eastern U.S., but they were
eliminated in most areas by hunting and settlement at the same time
a favorite prey, whitetail deer, declined in population.
Cougars are a protected species in Nebraska.
Most of the sightings have occurred in the Panhandle, but they
have been seen elsewhere in the state.
In January, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission confirmed the
presence of a mountain lion near Columbus, in east-central
In November 2005, a 100-pound male was found dead along
Interstate 80 near the Gretna-Louisville exit west of Omaha.
In October 2003, a 108-pound male was found walking through a
park deep inside Omaha city limits. It was captured after being hit
with a tranquilizer dart and wounded by a shotgun blast.
Until last year, a wild cougar had not been confirmed in
Wisconsin since the early 1900s.
Researchers learned a lot from the cat that roamed the Milton
area for three months before being shot, said Eric Anderson, a
professor of wildlife ecology at the University of
“Here’s a cat wandering across the landscape of southern
Wisconsin and northern Illinois, a fairly heavily populated area,
and nobody saw it,” he said.
Male cougars like that have been moving out from the Black
Hills. Anderson said an estimated 20 to 25 young males are believed
to leave there each year and go looking for females, as well as
He expects Wisconsin will eventually have resident cougars.
But if the state had a breeding population now, some cougars
would be killed on roads and found feeding on livestock and more
evidence would be found in areas where the animals spent time,
Still, he said people venturing outdoors should be aware of
potential dangers. He noted the state also has black bears and a
healthy wolf population, and even a deer in rut can pose a
The Lashleys said they have nothing against cougars, but they
want people to be aware of their presence.
Sandy Kenner said she has no doubts the cats are here.
“I’m totally convinced. I wouldn’t jog at night anymore,” she
said. “It doesn’t scare me. Just don’t be stupid.”