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Cougar sightings could become more common

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ANN MARIE AMES
May 1, 2008
— Don’t get too excited to tell your future grandchildren you remember the “Milton cougar” of 2008.

Cougar sightings are likely to become more common, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife supervisor Doug Fendry said.


Don’t get too excited about that, either.


The big cats are extremely wily and avoid humans. If you see one, it’s because the cougar screwed up, Fendry said.


Fendry collected a blood sample from the cougar encountered in a barn near Milton on Jan. 18. The cougar had cut itself leaping from the barn when a person walked in.


Illinois authorities on Wednesday confirmed that the blood sample taken from the cougar seen near Milton matches DNA from the cougar shot and killed by police in Chicago on April 15.


“I suspect we’re going to see more cougars,” Fendry said.


Fendry cites the Web site www.cougarnet.org. The site shows that young, male cougars—like the one that made its way through Janesville, Clinton and Elkhorn to Chicago—are spreading from the Black Hills of South Dakota into Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri, Fendry said.


But it’s rare even for professionals to spot a cougar in the wild, Fendry said. He’s met a 70-year-old cougar researcher who’s spent his life observing the big cats. Other than the ones caught in traps or treed by dogs, the researcher had only seen three cougars.


Fendry and other DNR officials confirmed cougar tracks between Milton and Elkhorn throughout January and March. This winter’s heavy snows made this cougar relatively easy to track, he said.


Otherwise, the cougar might not have left any evidence from the time he was startled in the barn until the time he was found under a porch on Chicago’s north side.


The cougar was discovered by a couple looking to rent a Chicago home, Fendry said.


Residents first reported the cougar to Illinois authorities March 29.


Animal control officers carrying tranquilizer guns spent the day hunting for the cougar but couldn’t find it, according to a press release from the Cook County Animal and Rabies Control Department.


On April 15, police “were forced to shoot and kill the animal to protect residents, children and their small pets,” the press release reads.


Necropsy results showed the cougar died from gunshot wounds to the heart.


A necropsy is an autopsy for animals.


It took only two weeks to compare the cougar DNA samples because researchers already had the blood sample taken from the barn in Milton, DNR mammal ecologist Adrian Wydeven said.


It’s a quick test to confirm matching samples, he said. Researchers will keep working with the samples, he said.


The cougar weighed 124 pounds and was 5 feet 4 inches from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail, according to the Cook County press release.


Officials still are conducting dental tests to determine the animal’s age.


The cougar’s remains will be kept at the Chicago Field Museum for future research.


More online

-- The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has a page devoted to cougar sightings in the state. The page includes history, facts about cougars and a form to report wildlife sightings. Visit www.dnr.wi.gov and type “cougar” in the search function.


-- DNR wildlife manager Doug Fendry recommends www.cougarnet.org to learn more about cougars and their habits.



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