Carlinville, Ill. — Macoupin County may have the first cougar sighting of the 2013 season. In late October, area residents were circulating a photo of a cougar allegedly spotted near Broom’s Orchard south of Carlinville.
DNR District 23 Wildlife Biologist Kent Boyles said he first became aware of this “viral Facebook sensation” shortly before Halloween. In order for this to be a state-verified sighting, a DNR biologist will need to “ground truth” the photo in question.
Normally DNR staff does not initiate the process of verifying a photo, instead acting on a landowner or picture owner’s request. According to DNR, as of Nov. 5, contact had not been made with the actual photo and/or landowner to verify the photo.
A wildlife biologist will “ground truth” a photo to verify the contents of the photo are real. Some points considered in ground truthing are the position of the trail camera in relation to the subject of the photo, tracks in the area, placement of vegetation and identifying landmarks. Boyles stated he could not verify the recent cougar photo came from Macoupin County.
The closest group of wild cougars is in the Black Hills of Southwest South Dakota and Northeast Wyoming. It is possible a male (or even the same male or males spotted last year) has wandered to Illinois looking for his own territory.
Last year’s reported cougar sightings were in Jo Davies, Morgan, Pike and Calhoun counties.
Many suspect the photo could be of a domestic animal – somebody’s escaped pet.
Boyles said there is no reliable correspondence between the USDA and DNR to keep track of exotic pet permits in the state.
Due to the extreme reclusiveness of the cougar, it is difficult to determine the authenticity of the cougar photo.
Because of last year’s sightings, many hunters are now more familiar with the facts surrounding cougars.
With the popularity of trail cameras, wildlife officials note that it will be interesting to see if anymore cougars show up in Illinois during the 2013-14 hunting seasons. DNR has been reminding hunters that if they think they spot an unusual animal on a trail camera or in the woods, they should contact a local DNR wildlife biologist or law enforcement officer.
According to a report by a St. Louis television station, Kevin Fones, an avid hunter in Macoupin County, saw the picture on his neighbor’s trail camera, he was shocked.
“I was just like wow, it’s true. We’ve always suspected them around here. We’ve seen the big prints and other people saying that they’ve seen glimpses. But no real proof,” Fones told KSDK.
The administrator of the Macoupin County Animal Control says mountain lions are certainly unusual in the area.
“But they have been spotted in the State of Illinois off and on through the years,” Buzie Bertagnolli said.
He said mountain lions love to prey on livestock and deer, and in this rural part of Illinois, both are plentiful.
“Most of the time they will stay away from people, they will hunker down from them. But that doesn’t necessarily hold true all of the time. It depends on how hungry they are,” Bertagnolli said.
For Fones, just the thought of a mountain lion near his home is unsettling.
“I’ve got kids. And other people around here have kids and pets, and I believe they need to be aware. I did talk to one game warden and he said we could kill it. And I plan on it if we see it,” he told KSDK.