Thursday, January 26th, 2023
Thursday, January 26th, 2023

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‘Dealing’ with cougars could be part of future

The mountain lion like this one was spotted in the eastern Los Angeles County community of Azusa, near the San Gabriel Mountains wilderness.

Springfield — The shooting of a cougar by a CPO in Whiteside County last month has resulted in public acknowledgement by DNR that Illinois residents may have to deal with the large predator in the days ahead.

A necropsy on the cougar in question performed at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago determined it to be a wild juvenile male. DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said on Dec. 18 that DNR has closed that particular case.

But that certainly hasn’t closed the booked on cougars in the state, because the killing of the 100-pound cat has also led to a flurry of reported sightings around the state.

As this issue of Illinois Outdoor News was going to press, reports were coming in from Jo Daviess County that a female cougar and had been found with kittens in tow. That report was not confirmed by DNR.

For its part, DNR is taking a realistic stance toward the cougar situation. In the Dec. 10 edition of the Chicago Tribune – three weeks after the killing of the cougar – DNR Director Marc Miller penned a piece titled “Illinois plans for return of wildlife like cougars.”

“The recent arrival of a mountain lion – also known as a cougar – near Morrison in Whiteside County generated much public discussion about the future of this species in Illinois and the possible return of other apex predators such as the gray wolf and the American black bear,” Miller wrote, adding, “While [DNR] believes mountain lion sightings are isolated occurrences for now, the department has been preparing for the time when mountain lions, wolves and black bears may once again establish populations in the state. The state has funded scientific research in which suitable habitat models have been developed for these species, and it has also researched attitudes and opinions of Illinoisans regarding these large carnivores.”

Miller explained that DNR previously supported a bill in the General Assembly that sought to add the black bear, gray wolf and cougar to the list of protected species under the Illinois Wildlife Code.

“While that [2011] effort was not successful, the DNR remains interested in finding ways to achieve protections for these animals by working cooperatively with a wide range of constituencies,” Miller concluded.

At this point, no legislation involving the mentioned animals is active in Springfield.

In the wake of the cougar shoot ing outside of Morrison, a number of cougar sighting reports have come in to state officials and media across Illinois. On Dec. 13, the Jacksonville Journal-Courier reported that DNR was hoping to speak with a west-central Illinois person who captured an image of a cougar sniffing at or eating something. The photo, which was posted on Facebook, created a buzz in the Calhoun County area.

“We have not been contacted by the person who took the photo. I wish they would so we can decide if we want to follow it up further,” DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said, noting that cougar reportedly had been photographed near an orchard south of Carlinville. “We’ve received calls about the photo and our biologist has been made aware of it.”

DNR biologists had previously confirmed cougar sightings last November in Calhoun County.

“We’ve verified sightings over the last several years and over the last few years we’ve had more with credible evidence,” McCloud told the Journal-Courier. “We believe they may be migrating through the area. We don’t believe they are restarting a population here. They seem to be passing through. The ones last year were going down the Mississippi.”

Some believe cougars traveling from the upper Midwest cross the Mississippi River when it freezes over. There is also suspicion that during the 2012 drought, when the river was low, some cougars were able to cross into Illinois.

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