Janesville64°

Yes, it's a cougar!

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
January 23, 2008
— It’s official, or about as official as the state Department of Natural Resources wants to get right now.

Biologists say the tracks of a large cat spotted outside of Milton are consistent with a cougar, the first time in a century that one has been confirmed living in Wisconsin.


The DNR is assuming the animal is a wild cougar, not one escaped or released from captivity.


The DNR is asking for the public’s help to gather information on the animal, its habits and range.


“If it is a wild cougar, it would be rather exciting to have a predator like this back in the state again,” said Doug Fendry, wildlife supervisor.


The pad width on the footprint is on the small end for a cougar, which means it might be a young male or female closer to about 100 pounds, he said.


An adult male weighs anywhere from 140 to 160 pounds.


Residents have reported seeing a cougar in northeast Rock County and adjacent Jefferson County over the past couple of months, Fendry said.


The DNR now will analyze urine and blood samples taken as the animal was tracked Friday afternoon from a barn on Bowers Lake Road to confirm that the animal is a North American cougar.


Staff could capture the cougar if the opportunity presents itself, but that’s easier said than done, Fendry said. Biologists then could look for a microchip, tattoos or other signs that the animal is an escaped captive. An escaped captive would not be released back to the wild.


If the animal is a wild cougar, the DNR could put a radio transmitter on the cougar and track its movements.


Cougars, also called mountain lions or pumas, disappeared in Wisconsin in the early 1900s, with the last confirmed report in 1908.


Cougars have been documented in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. Those cougars apparently came from the Black Hills area and typically are young males looking to set up their own territory, Fendry said.


In Wisconsin, the DNR has tracked “rare mammal” sightings since 1991 and tends to receive 40 to 80 reports of cougar sightings a year, said Adrian Wydeven, mammal ecologist with the DNR.


In 2006, the department received at least 102 reports of cougar sightings, but 16 of those were determined “not likely.” Four were classified as “probable,” with 82 classified “possible.”


Cougars are “protected wild animals” in Wisconsin, which means a permit from the DNR is required to kill one.


DNR staff will check roads, pastures, marshes and wild lands over the next several days, mainly in the towns of Milton and Lima and especially near Storr’s Lake and Lima Marsh Wildlife Area. The cougar was last seen near Storr’s Lake Wildlife Area.


“This is such a unique situation,” Fendry said.


At a minimum, the DNR wants to learn more about the animal and get a good DNA analysis done.


Fendry said rumors are circulating that the DNR has been stocking the state with cougars, but he said that is not so.


“With something like this, we kind of let nature do its thing,” Fendry said.


Fendry has heard of cougar sightings through his 30-year career.


“Unfortunately, we’ve never had documentation,” he said.


“Now, we have something.


“The question is, is it an escaped wild cat or a true wild cougar?”



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