Cougar caught on camera confirmed, linked to another

Jacksonville, Ill. — State wildlife officials confirmed two cougar sightings in Illinois in the course of a week, but they speculate it might be the same animal – one that began its journey from southern Wisconsin.
In mid-September, a cougar’s tail and back legs were photographed by a trail camera near Warren, just on the Illinois side of the Wisconsin border. Wildlife biologists had been tracking a cougar in southern Wisconsin in August, and they assumed it had continued on to Illinois.

An Illinois Conservation Police officer visited the scene after Warren police reported the sighting and matched it to the picture.

Weeks later, on Oct. 28, deer hunter Mark Cobb was startled to see a cougar on his trail camera near Literberry, north of Jacksonville in Morgan County – hundreds of miles south of the first sighting in Warren.

“There’s a lot of speculation involved, but it makes sense if you connect the dots,” said DNR furbearer biologist Bob Bluett. “It’s not easy for something as big as a cougar to escape notice or detection in the Midwest.

“And the last documented occurrence in Illinois, in 2008, was preceded by a confirmed sighting in southern Wisconsin.”

That animal made it all the way into the city of Chicago, where it was shot and killed.

Bluett said the Warren sighting got a second look after the Morgan County cat was confirmed.

It turned out two reports from Warren had been lumped together.

The situation got confusing because one of those turned out to be a hoax. The other, however, appears to be legitimate, Bluett said.

“We had a guy that submitted a photo as a hoax,” said district wildlife biologist Doug Dufford, who is based in Savanna.

“That is the danger you run into,” he said. “The rumor mill gets going, and it seems some people just want a piece of the glory.”

DNR confirmed that the trail camera photo snapped in Morgan County is indeed that of a cougar.

Cobb, who hunts on property north of Jacksonville, captured the cougar on his trail camera, a motion-sensitive camera used by hunters to keep an eye on the movements of deer in their hunting areas.

“Sunday afternoon, I got the SD cards out of the cameras and was sitting at my sister’s kitchen counter and was checking them out,” Cobb said. “I just kind of went, ‘Oh, my God,’ and everybody thought I had a big deer on there.”

DNR wildlife biologist Mike Chandler visited the site the next afternoon and verified the location where the picture was taken.

The picture clearly shows the big cat walking past a camera set up along a trail through a wooded area.

Cougars once roamed most of the lower 48 states, but for much of the past century have been restricted to the mountain west.

Today, stories of young males wandering east and south from the Dakotas to states like Nebraska, Iowa or Missouri are relatively common. Missouri regularly reports cougar sightings, although conservation officials in Missouri say no known breeding populations have been established.

In 2011, a young male from the Black Hills of South Dakota made it as far as Connecticut.

Cougars can range great distances, but Bluett said it is impossible to say if the Morgan County cat is still around.

“Most likely it will move on, but these animals are so few and far between no one could know what their habits are,” he said.

Cougars prey most often on deer.

Cobb said it was a shock to learn the cougar was so close by.

Cobb lives in Sherman, but his mother and sister live in houses within walking distance of the trail where the cougar was photographed.

“I had this uneasy feeling in my gut when I realized something that big and potentially dangerous was walking around that close to us,” he said.

Cougars are nocturnal and generally stay away from people.

Still, Cobb said his 12-year-old son didn’t want to go out hunting with him after learning about the cougar.

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