Cougar confusion in Illinois

Dekalb County Cougar
(Photo courtesy of Illinois State Police)

If you have been following social media or reading the news reports and accompanying comments since mid-October, one would think that Illinois is just crawling with cougars. The current cougar saga began in Illinois when two things occurred.

First, IDNR officials announced on October 17 that a  mountain lion (Puma concolor – cougar) was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 88 in DeKalb County on Sunday, October 16. The animal was transferred by the Illinois State Police to an Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) wildlife biologist and was delivered to the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana (UIUC) for a complete autopsy and DNA analysis. The UIUC analysis will provide valuable information to biologists about the animal, its place of origin, and exploratory movements across the Midwest.

IDNR experts believe it may be the same mountain lion captured on a trail camera on private property in Whiteside County in late September. This sighting/trail cam capture was  confirmed by wildlife biologists from IDNR and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

At that time, IDNR also announced  they were monitoring an additional cougar reported in western Illinois in early October. This particular animal has a GPS collar attached in November 2021 by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) as part of an ongoing research project on their mountain lion population, including movement patterns.

The NGPC has been coordinating with state agencies on GPS location data as the animal recently made an eastward journey across Iowa and into Illinois. IDNR  continued coordinating with NGPC and other agency partners on this animal until the afternoon of October 28th.

After several days of tracking and observing the  mountain lion on the west side of Springfield, IDNR made the decision to tranquilize the animal and transport it to a sanctuary specializing in the care of large felines.

Wildlife experts and public safety officials from IDNR, the Illinois Conservation Police, the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services (USDA WS), and the Springfield Police Department determined that the mountain lion, or cougar, that had strayed into residential and business areas of Springfield posed an imminent threat to residents and property and therefore needed to be removed.

IDNR officials conferred with their counterparts at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, who declined an offer to send the mountain lion back to their state.

USDA WS staff tranquilized the mountain lion and  transported  the animal to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center (ERFC). ERFC is  a 260-acre feline sanctuary in Center Point, Indiana that provides homes and veterinary care for large and exotic cats.

“Thank you to our hardworking wildlife staff, conservation police, and our partners across federal, state, and local agencies for handling this difficult situation with the professionalism and care that this beautiful wild animal and concerned residents deserve. I am confident that the mountain lion will be protected and cared for at its new home. I also want to thank the families of Springfield for being cautious and keeping their distance while our experts worked to ensure the safety of the community and the mountain lion.” ” said IDNR Director Colleen Callahan.

Cougars tend to travel large distances. This one has traveled to Illinois from Nebraska with no reported conflicts with humans, including when it passed through the outskirts of Lincoln, Neb.

IDNR advises, should a person encounter a mountain lion that does not immediately flee, it’s best to stand tall, wave your arms, throw rocks or other objects, and yell. Do not run – slowly back away from the location, keeping an eye on the animal.

Mountain lions were eliminated from Illinois before the 1870s due to habitat loss and overharvest. Although extremely rare in Illinois, mountain lion sightings have been confirmed in Illinois during the past few decades. These sightings primarily consisting of younger animals, typically originating from a population in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Mountain lions have been protected in Illinois since 2015, and hunting, killing, or harassing them is unlawful unless they pose an imminent threat to a person or property. The IDNR reminds the public that it is very rare for a mountain lion to pose a danger to people or property. So rare there have only been eight confirmed cougars in Illinois between 2002 and 2022.

IDNR receives numerous reports of mountain lions in the state each year. The alleged sightings are often determined to be mistaken identity with other animals, such as feral cats or bobcats, or evidence is not available to validate the report. Regardless, IDNR documents and investigates all reports by the public.

For more information about mountain lions in Illinois, visit https://bit.ly/ILmountainlions.

The public can report large carnivore sightings at the following link: https://www.wildlifeillinois.org/sightings/report/.

IDNR will closely monitor reports under its large carnivore response plan and work to mitigate threats to public safety and property.

Be sure to check out the upcoming issue of Illinois Outdoor News as we look at some of the myths and misconceptions about cougars in Illinois.

Categories: — — Illinois – Gretchen Steele

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