Mark Cobb captured this picture of a cougar early Sunday morning north of Jacksonville.
Cougar captured on trail camera in Morgan County confirmed
The State Journal-Register
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources confirmed Monday that a trail camera photo snapped in Morgan County is indeed a cougar.
This is only the fourth confirmed Illinois sighting of a cougar – also known as a mountain lion, panther, puma or catamount – since the cats were driven from Illinois in the 1870s.
Mark Cobb, who hunts on property north of Jacksonville near Literberry, captured the cougar on his trail camera, a motion-sensitive camera used by hunters to keep an eye on the movements of deer in their hunting areas.
“Sunday afternoon, I got the SD cards out of the cameras and was sitting at my sister’s kitchen counter and was checking them out,” Cobb said. “I just kind of went, ‘Oh my God,’ and everybody thought I had a big deer on there.”
DNR wildlife biologist Mike Chandler visited the site and verified the location where the picture was taken Monday afternoon.
The picture clearly shows the big cat walking past a trail camera set up along a trail through a wooded area.
Cougars once roamed over most of the lower 48 states, but for much of the past century were restricted to the mountain west.
Today, stories of young males wandering east and south from the Dakotas to states like Nebraska, Iowa or Missouri are relatively common.
Missouri regularly reports cougar sightings, although conservation officials in Missouri say no known breeding populations have been established.
In 2011, a young male from the Black Hills of South Dakota made it as far as Connecticut.
Cougars can range great distances, but Bob Bluett, furbearer biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said it is impossible to say if the cat is still around.
“Most likely it will move on, but these animals are so few and far between no one could know what their habits are,” he said.
Cobb said it was a bit of a shock to learn the cougar was so close by.
Cobb lives in Sherman, but his mother and sister live in houses within walking distance of the trail camera where the cougar was photographed.
“I had this uneasy feeling in my gut when I realized something that big and potentially dangerous was walking around that close to us,” he said.
Cougars are nocturnal, and generally stay away from people.
Still, Cobb said his 12-year-old son didn’t want to go out hunting with him after learning about the cougar.
Speculation about cougars and their presence in Illinois is fairly common among hunters and other outdoorsmen.
“It’s kind of cool,” Cobb said of having captured a picture of a cougar. “Everybody hears the rumors, but not very many people have seen one.”
Because there is no breeding population in the state, cougars are not listed as a protected species, as are gray wolves, bobcats and other mammal species not governed by hunting seasons in Illinois.
According to the 2012-2013 Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, hunters would have to have the permission of the landowner to shoot species that are not protected.
Chandler said DNR wants hunters in the area to report any additional sightings and send in any trail camera photos that might show a cougar.
“If they get pictures, call us,” Chandler said. “We want to know.”
Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.