Wisconsin Cougar Sighting

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on January 10th, 2007

Proof of cougars remains elusive

If they’re not here, they soon will be, state researcher says

STEVENS POINT — A year-long search failed to turn up positive proof that mountain lions are present in Wisconsin, but the study’s leader is far from dismayed.

“We’re still looking, but I don’t think it (finding conclusive evidence) is too far off,” said Eric Anderson, professor of wildlife at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“If cougars are not here, they’re going to be here, and we should be thinking about how we are going to deal with their presence.”

Anderson’s optimism is buoyed by a photograph reportedly taken Oct. 22, 2005, near Ettrick in Trempealeau County. A bow hunter’s trail camera produced a blurry image that appears to be a cougar with a large collar around its neck.

Wisconsin Cougar Sightings

“I consider it to be a legitimate photo,” Anderson said. “It’s intriguing, to say the least.”

The presence of a collar could indicate the animal is an escaped pet cougar, but Anderson has another theory.

“South Dakota is doing radio-collar work with cougars. One of their collared cougars was located in northwestern Minnesota. One was headed in the direction of Wisconsin, and they don’t know its fate.”

If the latter animal is the cougar captured on camera, there is no way to verify it.

But the presence of cougars has been documented in Illinois and Minnesota, Anderson said, and the Michigan public is pushing that state’s Department of Natural Resources to concede cougars have a small but established population there.

Dozens of cougar sightings have been reported in Wisconsin in recent years, but state DNR officials say strong photographic or physical evidence is needed to verify those reports and to take any steps that might be necessary regarding the animals’ future.

Anderson began a concerted effort to obtain DNA samples of cougars in 2006.

Hair snares on rubbing posts baited with cat lure were placed in several areas of the state with frequent cougar sightings. The snares were designed to capture cat hairs for DNA testing to ascertain whether the hair came from a cougar or some other animal.

“We put a total of 36 hair snares out from Jan. 3 to the end of March,” Anderson said. “We had seven hits. Two were from bobcats, two were from black bear and three were of unknown materials.”

This winter, an additional effort will be made to collect hair samples, but the snare device has been redesigned and the cat lure reformulated.

“We’re trying to increase the attractiveness to mountain lions,” Anderson said. “We’ve done trials on captive animals to see which formula gets the best reaction. We’re trying to elicit a rubbing response.”

Snare efforts will be concentrated in Lincoln, Langlade and Oneida counties, enabling UWSP student researchers Kristina Artner and Joe Welch to more easily monitor the stations.

“The Rhinelander area produced the most cougar sightings in the state this past summer, with close to 10 observations,” Anderson said.

Many cougar sightings appear legitimate at first glance, he added, “but maybe 90 percent of the sightings are explainable as other species.

“When people have photos, nine times out of 10, the photo is of a bobcat. Shadows or the angle of the lens affect a photo, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can look very much like a mountain lion.”

Anderson said the Ettrick photo is the only one “that I’m really quite convinced may be a mountain lion.”

A paw print obtained along the Wisconsin-Michigan border in Vilas County “looks pretty darn convincing to me,” he added.

If one of the hair snares produces DNA evidence that a cougar is present, an array of trail cameras may be established in the vicinity, Anderson said.

Adrian Wydeven, a DNR wildlife specialist at Park Falls, and Anderson have been looking for conclusive evidence of cougars in Wisconsin since 2003.

“We don’t have any answers yet, but we have lots and lots of questions,” Anderson said.

Among the intriguing queries:

If a native breeding cougar population is indeed present, how have these stealthy animals maintained a presence on the landscape without leaving more physical evidence of their existence?Jim Lee
Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers
Green Bay Press-Gazette

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

11 Responses to “Wisconsin Cougar Sighting”

  1. Blue Steel responds:

    An even more intriguing question may be: What about the three samples that contained “unknown materials”? Is it possible to contact the lab that did this DNA work, and get the results from these three samples? Maybe it’s some kind of cat, but maybe it’s something else?

  2. BurningStarFour responds:

    Hi Craig, good find. I actually live near Trempealeau county about 20 minutes away to be exact, and its definitely taken for granted by farmers and local hunters that there are cougars in the area, in fact a horse was mauled a couple of months ago by a possible cougar, I say possible because the animal wasn’t actually seen, but there have been plenty of sightings around this area as well, and I should think there’s enough forest to keep them hidden and enough deer to keep them fed. It’s definitely interesting to talk to the locals that are well acquainted with the area they seem to have plenty to say on the subject.

  3. kittenz responds:

    I dunno. This blurry photo does appear to be a big cat, but the proportions do not look right for a puma. Look how big the head is, and how long the face. It looks more like a Panthera cat, like a lion or even a tiger. (Of course lions and tigers are not native to Wisconsin. But there are big cats in private hands there.)

    It just does not look like a puma.

    (As an aside, I try very hard to hold to to the scientific community’s usage of “puma” for Puma concolor. But I have to admit, I like the word “cougar” better. It just seems so much more descriptive and rolls off the tongue so easily.)

  4. shovethenos responds:

    I agree with kittenz, the cat pictured is much more stocky and paunchy that a cougar. The fur around the face also has the “mutton chop” look that tigers and some other cats have. I thought it was just due to the collar at first, but its the underlying physiology.

    What is it then? I don’t know, it’s too big and the tail’s too long for it to be a bobcat. I would say tiger but
    one would expect the stripes to be more pronounced if it was a tiger. Tiger, immature male lion, lionness, liger, tigon – take your pick.

  5. Mnynames responds:

    I’ll admit, my first thought upon seeing the picture was Lion, until I read about the collar. That changes things, and with all due respect to kittenz, who I know is quite knowledgeable, I see no reason why it couldn’t be a cougar, as described.

    As for the hair composed of unknown materials, wouldn’t it be a kick if Sasquatch were using these scratching posts too?

  6. shovethenos responds:

    In looking through some pictures there are some paunchier looking mountain lions, and even some with fuller faces. But the mutton chops on the face of the cat above are pretty pronounced. I guess a cougar is still a possiblity, but I wouldn’t rule out an escaped cat of another species.

  7. BurningStarFour responds:

    I’d have to agree after further inspection that it does seem to look like an African Lioness, although it could just be because the picture is blurred and therefore would be the most likely of suspects the cougar.

  8. kittenz responds:

    I’m not referring to the overall body proportions, although they seem more Panthera than Puma; there are pumas that are heavily built and most pumas have a loose dewlap of skin along the belly like this cat has. I’m even willing to believe that what at first glance looks like a “muttonchop” ruff could be a very thick collar or radio collar, and that there is no ruff. Pumas do not have a ruff.

    But the face itself looks like a Panthera face which is much different than a Puma face. The face below the eyes is nearly twice as long as a Puma face. The head is held in a Panthera-like position too, and the mandible is longer than a Puma mandible.

    Furthermore if you look closely at the underbelly, it appears to be white with what could be stripes – the photo is too blurry to tell for sure – and the chin and lower face look like there are whit markings and possibly stripes or spots there too.

    No matter how hard I try I cannot superimpose a Puma face on this cat. I do intricate wildlife art and I have studied cats of all kinds intensively all my life, because in order to produce a lifelike portrait of an animal, you have to know the animal’s physiology and structure inside and out. My first glance said “Tiger!”. It COULD be a lion. But that head is just not a Puma head.

  9. Bob Michaels responds:

    Let the cougar be, its real keep the armed nuts away.

  10. pix responds:

    I would like to validate the story. I am a West-Central Wisconsin resident and I almost hit a cougar on the way to work. I have absolutely no doubt what it was. In regards to the typical sighting, I have to admit that I didn’t believe it at first. However, because I was so close and had approximately five full seconds of steady observation on my part I decided to ‘check it out on the internet’, and I was brought to this site. I am curious now as to whether anyone knows what the average range of this cougar would be? The one I saw was at a full run. I saw it from my driver-side window running straight for me I slammed the brakes and literally screeched to a halt. Watching it the whole time as one does when they are about to hit an animal. It ran right in front of me and continued through an old cornfield and disappeared. I think I was in shock at first, but I just stepped on the gas and went to work.

    What really ticks me off, though, is that I had JUST purchased a camera phone that was still in the package on my dashboard. Not that I would have had the time to get a picture, but still!

  11. foxvalleymale75 responds:

    Hello While I was in Medina this morning my wife called from Appleton saying she had just called the sheriff to report a mountain lion in our back yard on the RR tracks. I believe it may have been a stray bob cat. I have seen no follow up by animal control to look at the tracks to verify either way. I just had to check some where for sighting reports to see if it was at all possible.

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