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Big cat spotted in Milton

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
January 22, 2008
— “It isn’t every day you track a cougar in Rock County,” said Milton resident Kevin Edwardson.

On Friday, Edwardson followed what he was almost certain were cougar prints into his buddy’s haymow when the tawny-colored cat jumped up from behind a mound of hay and rushed toward him.


It was awesome seeing the big cat, Edwardson said.


Randy Hookstead, the barn’s owner, had seen the tracks at about 5 a.m. that morning at 8911 Bowers Lake Road. He had to leave for a trip up north, so he called Edwardson, who lives nearby and is also a trapper, to come over and check them out. He knew nobody would believe him.


Cougars live out West, and a Department of Natural Resources biologist said one here would be rare indeed.


Edwardson had heard reports of others seeing a cougar in the area, but finally here was a paw track, captured in the snow.


They were wider than Edwardson’s hand.


“And I’m a pretty good-sized guy,” he said.


The prints came across a nearby field straight to Hookstead’s barn and up into the haymow. Edwardson figured the animal had been there before. He circled the barn and didn’t see any tracks coming out, so he headed up into the mow.


He moved toward the center of the haymow and threw a rock against the wall.


The cougar jumped up from where it had bedded down behind a mound of hay and ran to within 15 feet of Edwardson. Then, it turned broadside and jumped through an opening in the wall, dropping gracefully at least 10 feet to the ground.


It didn’t stumble or roll and sped away taking huge strides, Edwardson said.


He figures it was about 6 feet long stretched out.


“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Edwardson said. “I wasn’t scared. I was in awe, seeing something like that out here.”


Edwardson’s wife, Dorrie, still can’t believe her husband went up into the haymow with little more than two rocks to face a mountain lion, he said with a laugh.


But Edwardson figures the cat would rather get away from people than attack them.


It probably was thinking, ‘Somebody had to come and spoil my day,’” he said.


Doug Fendry, a biologist and wildlife supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources, said a cougar here would be rare. He analyzed the tracks but is having the identity verified by another biologist.


“We really don’t have a cougar expert in Wisconsin,” he said.


DNR staff that tracked the animal for about two miles on Friday also gathered urine and blood samples. The animal appeared to be bleeding from its paw.


Also, the DNR doesn’t know whether the cougar is truly a wild animal or one that either escaped or was released from captivity. An analysis of the DNA could be compared to the wild cougar population, Fendry said.


“My phone has been ringing off the hook from people reporting seeing (the cougar) all the way into Jefferson County,” he said.


His first report came Jan. 5, when someone reported seeing one cross Highway 26 near Highway N.


Fendry keeps a folder of reported cougar sightings but never has been able to confirm them. He figures this animal has been around since at least summer and has survived on the plentiful deer population.


Cougars generally live in the western part of the country. The closest they live and thrive is in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Fendry said. But they have been confirmed in Minnesota, Iowa and western Illinois.


Once the DNR gets confirmation that the animal is a cougar, staff will decide the next step.


One option is to let it be.


People don’t have reason to fear, Fendry said. Cougars are relatively common but reports of them attacking people are rare.


He advises that people not corner the animal if they find it in an outbuilding, for instance.


The animal in the barn, “just wanted to get out of there,” he said.


Now, the tracks around the barn aren’t cougar—they’re human, Fendry said.


“Everybody in the neighborhood (checking) it out,” he added. “I suspect it’s not going to come back to that barn for quite some time.”


TO LEARN MORE
For more information on cougars, go to www.cougarnet.org.

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