Juneau Co. cougar stymies wildlife experts

Elroy, Wis. – The 1,200-pound Hereford beef cow was no match for
the predator weighing only a small fraction of its quarry. On July
3, Lester Leatherberry found the cow, killed as the result of an
apparent attack by a cougar that, since early March, has farm folks
in Juneau County on edge.

“It was sad,” said Lester’s wife, Lynn. “We raised her from a
calf.” The couple operates a 300-acre beef and dairy operation near
Elroy.

The Leatherberrys also lost a heifer on March 1, the first time
they were aware of the cougar’s presence in the area, Lynn said.
“He (Lester) found it half buried, dead.”

According to Lynn Leatherberry, the cougar is holed up in the
vicinity of a large rock outcropping near their property where the
animal has been seen several times. Lester also saw the cat in a
tree and attempted to take a photo of it with his cell phone, but
was unable to get a clear shot as the cougar jumped to another tree
and disappeared deeper into the woods.

Cougars are opportunistic hunters, sometimes killing without eating
their prey, Lynn Leatherberry said. “If it moves, they’ll kill it,
just like a house cat,” she said.

The cougar also struck about three miles away at a 126-acre sheep
ranch operated by Sherry Jones and George Bender. Four sheep – one
a purebred Suffolk valued at about $400 – were killed while two
horses also were attacked. Both horses sustained injuries to the
neck, but survived. One was attacked twice.

“It (the cougar) has got to be destroyed,” Bender said.

DNR Acting Director of the Bureau of Endangered Resources Keith
Warnke said the agency plans to do just that if the opportunity
presents itself.

The DNR contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services to capture
problem animals. Wildlife Services trappers from the Waupun office
have placed foot-hold traps and cable restraints at the depredation
sites, Warnke said. To this point, however, the cougar has not been
observed with game cameras at the sites.

Dogs also may be used to track and tree the cougar where it would
be euthanized.

“Wildlife Services will try to humanely euthanize this individual
(cat),” Warnke said.

The agency also has issued shooting permits to at least 13
landowners in the area.

“Permits can be issued to landowners with livestock who have had a
depredation or who keep livestock within one mile of a Wildlife
Services-verified depredation,” Warnke said.

If a cougar is killed by a permit holder, the shooter must report
it to the local conservation warden as soon as possible, Warnke
said. The carcass must then be turned over to the DNR.

Not only are authorities concerned about domestic animal
depredation, but the area where the cougar roams is within a couple
of miles of the Elroy-Sparta bike trail.

“The sheriff (Juneau County Sheriff Brent Olson) has been out here
several times to try to find it,” Bender said.

DNR and USDA officials aren’t sure if the cougar is the same one
that was seen farther north in Dunn, Pierce, and St. Croix counties
in December. That cat was first seen near Stillwater, Minn., and
was believed to have traveled across the St. Croix River on the ice
and into St. Croix County. The cat was moving south and east,
covering five to seven miles per day.

According to DNR Mammal Ecologist Adrian Wydeven, cougars also were
tracked in Price and Bayfield counties in January and February of
2009 and in Spooner in March, 2009. These are believed to be two
different animals, Wydeven said.

Yet another cougar was photographed on a trail camera near Lena in
Oconto County on May 20, and is assumed to be the same animal that
was photographed 28 miles away in Wallace, Mich. Both Wisconsin and
Michigan DNR officials consider these as confirmed observations of
the same animal.

There have been numerous suspected sightings prior to the more
recent ones, however. A DNR report on cougar sightings in Wisconsin
from 1994 to 2003 lists a total of 345 incidents that were
considered either “possible” or “probable.” Examples of evidence to
confirm a cougar’s presence might include a carcass, photograph,
tracks, or DNA-confirmed feces.

According to the DNR, the cougar spotted near the Walworth County
city of Milton in January 2008 was the first confirmed instance of
a wild cougar in Wisconsin since they were extirpated from the
state in the early part of the 20th Century. That animal later was
shot in Chicago.

Prior to European settlement, mountain lions ranged throughout the
Great Lakes region. Since their primary prey was white-tailed deer,
they were found throughout the wooded portions of Wisconsin and in
the oak savannas of the southern part of the state.

While attacks on humans are rare, anyone encountering a cougar is
advised to stand tall with arms extended skyward while backing away
toward some type of protective cover. Anyone encountering a cougar
or other unusual mammal should contact the DNR at (888) WDNRINF
(888 936-7463) or the local conservation warden.

While the agency has been supportive of conservation and recovery
of other carnivores, Warnke said, officials “will continue to work
to protect livestock and farmers in Juneau County.

“To maintain public tolerance of these large predators, problem
animals need to be quickly and efficiently removed from the
landscape,” he said.

A Juneau County farmer who wished to remain anonymous said the
mountain lion has been seen fairly often in the Five Corners area
of the county. He said that about four weeks ago a houndsman tried
to strike the cat’s track with his trailing hounds, but was
unsuccessful.

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