Second cougar sighting reported on Janesville's southwest side

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Shelly Birkelo
Wednesday, June 18, 2014

JANESVILLE—Michelle Herrmann was on her daily walk about 8 p.m. Tuesday on Janesville's southwest side. She looked back, and there it was.

The big cat that had been reported in the area was walking 100 feet away in grass along the tree line.

Herrmann, who was in the area of Wildflower and Birdsong lanes, became the second person to report a cougar sighting to Janesville police. The first report was Sunday in the 3400 block of Tennyson Drive.

“I stopped, lifted up my sunglasses. It stopped, turned and looked at me. It was definitely not a house cat," Hermann said. “It's big. It's got a huge tail, bright white chest and is very large. It looks like a small lion. It's not a bobcat. It's definitely in the lion family.''

For a second, Herrmann thought the cat might come after her, so she kept walking at a normal pace.

“It wasn't charging or moving toward me. It kept along the tall grass so if it felt threatened, it could dive back into the woods,” she said.

An officer responded and checked the area but was not able to locate the animal, Sgt. Joshua Norem said.

Earlier Tuesday, about 3 p.m., John Fitzgerald was pulling weeds along the ramp between Afton Road and South Crosby Avenue when he reported what he described as large animal prints to police.

Officer Joel Melton confirmed the prints, but he was unable to identify the tracks. He took pictures and forwarded them to the Department of Natural Resources, Norem said.

The prints “measured 4.5-by-4 inches each with a stride of 2.5 feet between consecutive sets of prints,” Melton wrote in his report.

Fitzgerald said he called police because it was a big print and he had heard on the news that authorities were looking for verification of a cougar in the area.

Herrmann hopes police, the sheriff's office or the DNR makes an announcement to the neighborhood so people their kids out of the park in her subdivision and keep their small pets inside.

Eric Lobner, district wildlife supervisor for the DNR, doesn't believe that's necessary.

After examining video of the first sighting and photos of the tracks found Tuesday, Lobner said people don't need to be sitting in their houses, afraid to go outside.

“We don't have any sort of confirmed presence of an animal (cougar),” he said.

Even if a cougar or cougars are passing through, “there's been no human health or safety risk associated with their presence,” Lobner said.

Generally, they move through one county and onto the next county in one day, he said.

“If a cougar is here, it's certainly going to be moving along based on past history.”

Lobner cited the cougar that passed through the Milton area in 2010 and ended up being shot in Chicago.

He also said several things make him question whether the animal prints along the Janesville road were those of a cougar.

Cats have direct registration, so when they walk, they place their back feet in the tracks of their front feet.

“In this situation, that doesn't appear to be the case,” he said.

The print also shows a claw mark, and cats don't have their claws extended when they walk, he said. They extend them only when they take down their prey, he said.

“I look at this track, and it appears to have claw marks clearly on at least three of the toes. That's not to say there isn't a cougar in the area, but this track is more representative of a large dog rather than a cougar,” Lobner said.

When Lobner watched the video of the big cat taken Sunday by Ashli and Sean Stacy outside their Tennyson Drive home, he said there appears to be an agricultural crop—maybe soybeans—planted in that field.

“When I look at soybean height this time of year, it appears it comes to about the belly of the animal in the picture. When you consider a cougar's body from the ground to the bottom of their belly, it's about a foot. The vegetation doesn't give me that impression, but I have to check that out to get any confirmation,” he said.

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