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Cougar tracks in Janesville?

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Stacy Vogel
February 11, 2008
— When a state official first saw a photo of a large paw print from Janesville’s Palmer Park, he doubted the print was made by the cougar sighted in Milton last month.

“One thing that strikes me is it actually seems quite big for a cougar,” said Doug Fendry, wildlife supervisor at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.


Cougar prints tend to be about 3 inches in diameter, and this print looked to be 4 or 5 inches across, as large as a woman’s foot in the picture, he said.


But after thinking it over and speaking to his colleagues, Fendry is starting to think the idea might be plausible.


Suzanne Pearson, Janesville, submitted the photo to the DNR last week after reading stories about the cougar. She took the photo the last week of January when she was walking her dog at Palmer Park and saw a print too big to be made by any dog she’d ever seen.


A DNR wildlife technician, Brian Buenzow, saw similar tracks after following a tip to Clinton on Jan. 31.


So here’s what DNR officials think might have happened:


The cougar might have gotten spooked from all the people looking for it in Milton and traveled south, Fendry said. It would have avoided heavy-traffic areas such as Highway 26 and wide-open spaces such as the Rock Prairie east of Janesville.


So it makes sense the cougar might have skirted along the east side of Janesville on its way to Clinton, Fendry and Buenzow said.


“It’s quite conceivable if that thing came south from Milton, it probably walked down a railroad or fence line or something and connected to the green belt in Janesville,” Buenzow said.


As for the print being too big, temperatures were above freezing in the last week of January, and melting snow could have made the print bigger, Fendry said.


Of course, the theory still is speculation at this point, Fendry said.


But even if the cougar did cross through Janesville or Clinton, residents have little cause for alarm, Buenzow said.


“With very little exception, cougars are much more afraid of people than people would think,” he said. “They don’t want any contact with people at all.”


Cougars often live on the outskirts of cities in the western part of the country without incident, Fendry said.


Still, Pearson said she’s going to be a little more aware of her surroundings when walking her dog from now on.


“I’ll definitely keep my MP3 player volume lower now just to be careful,” she said.


AWAITING RESULTS

Test results from a drop of blood collected in Milton confirmed last week that a cougar had been there, but officials still are waiting for test results that could reveal the sex and subspecies of the animal.


The state Department of Natural Resources hopes to have those results in a couple of weeks, said Doug Fendry, wildlife supervisor.


If the cougar turns out to be South American, it’s definitely an escaped captive, he said. If it’s North American, it could have traveled from the western part of the country.


The DNR might do a “track survey” later this month to search for more cougar prints. But there’s a good chance the animal might already have moved out of the area, especially if it’s a wild cougar, Fendry said.


“If you look at the other states where they’ve had cougar sightings, it’s often one (sighting) and then they’re gone,” he said.



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