Evidence mounts for Wisconsin cougars
Associated Press Writer
Cougar factsSome facts about the cougar, also known as mountain lion, puma, panther and catamount: - The animal once ranged throughout North America, except in the extreme north. It was gradually wiped out in most of the eastern U.S. as land was cleared for agriculture and forests were cut. Hunters also killed the cats. - A favorite prey is deer, an animal whose population in the eastern U.S. dropped extremely low by the early 1900s because of hunting. - Wild cougars probably never lived in Wisconsin in very high density, but they were not uncommon. They are believed to have been eliminated in Wisconsin by about 1910. - Adult male cougars can weigh 115 to 200 pounds and females are 80 to 120 pounds. The cougar is the fourth largest cat in the world and the second largest, behind the jaguar, in North America. - Attacks on humans are rare but have occurred in the western U.S. and Canada as people moved into cougar habitat. - Cougars are a protected wild animal in Wisconsin, meaning a permit from the DNR is required before anyone can kill one.
CALEDONIA, Wis. (AP) - Anna Lashley can’t forget her surprise when she looked out her kitchen window three years ago and spotted a big cat.
“I looked up and there’s this lion in the back yard, and I thought it must have gotten away from the zoo,” she said. “I called the zoo, and they said they hadn’t lost one.”
She’s convinced the animal that quickly departed was a cougar, also known as a mountain lion. The animals were wiped out in most of the eastern U.S. a century ago but have recently shown up again, migrating from the Black Hills of South Dakota into places like Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Deer commonly graze on Lashley’s rural property just south of Milwaukee. During the past three years, she has seen cougars from her window several times. Her 47-year-old son, Joel Lashley, said he was there for the most recent sighting on March 28.
“It was a big one,” he said, estimating the cat was bigger than a German shepherd, wi th a tail about half as long as its body.
“It turned to the side and then just leaped right through there,” he said, pointing to the row of pine trees at the edge of the property.
The Lashleys aren’t alone in their encounters with the cats.
State game managers get scores of reported sightings each year. They try to determine which are false, which are other animals, such as bobcats, and which are cougars.
Only two cougars have been confirmed. One was seen and left clear tracks in the snow in the Milton area of Rock County in January 2008. It was killed that April by police in a Chicago alley, some 100 miles away.
Bear hunters treed the second near Spooner in Barron County in March. An attempt to tranquilize it and attach a tracking collar failed, and the animal ran off.
Along with reported sightings have come suspicions mountain lions might have injured two young horses.
Gary and Sandy Kenner of Chippewa Falls suspect a cougar mauled their 3-month-old colt last summer before the mare interceded.
“We came out, and he had a big bite out of his chest and terrible scratches on its legs,” Gary Kenner said. The colt survived.
Jim and Amanda Saxby of rural Watertown had the same suspicions about the death of their yearling quarter horse in January.
In both cases, investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled out a cougar and suggested something else, possibly fencing, caused the injuries.
But both couples have their doubts after hearing many people tell of seeing cougars.
“There’s just too many sightings,” Sandy Kenner said. “You can deny it all you want, but when that many people have seen them, they have to be there.”
The stories are familiar to Ken Jonas, a wildlife biologist supervisor with the state Department of Natural Resources in Hayward.
He said the DNR has no interest in trying to conceal how many cougars are in Wisconsin. But the only way to c onfirm sightings is with photos, good tracks or other physical evidence. In the case of the confirmed sightings, blood, hair, urine and droppings were recovered.
Cougars once lived throughout the eastern U.S., but they were eliminated in most areas by hunting and settlement at the same time a favorite prey, whitetail deer, declined in population. Until last year, a wild cougar had not been confirmed in Wisconsin since the early 1900s.
Researchers learned a lot from the cat that roamed the Milton area for three months before being shot, said Eric Anderson, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“Here’s a cat wandering across the landscape of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, a fairly heavily populated area, and nobody saw it,” he said.
Male cougars like that have been moving out from the Black Hills. Anderson said an estimated 20 to 25 young males are believed to leave there each year and go looking for fe males, as well as food.
He expects Wisconsin will eventually have resident cougars.
But if the state had a breeding population now, some cougars would be killed on roads and found feeding on livestock and more evidence would be found in areas where the animals spent time, Jonas said.
Still, he said people venturing outdoors should be aware of potential dangers. He noted the state also has black bears and a healthy wolf population, and even a deer in rut can pose a threat.
The Lashleys said they have nothing against cougars, but they want people to be aware of their presence.
Sandy Kenner said she has no doubts the cats are here.
“I’m totally convinced. I wouldn’t jog at night anymore,” she said. “It doesn’t scare me. Just don’t be stupid.”