Cougar Spotted Just North of Chicago (Again)


Imagine this: it's dark, you're driving home with your family just 7 miles north of Chicago in Winnetka, on a quiet, oak-lined residential street. You think you spot a large dog by the side of the road, but when you get's not a dog. Or even a coyote.

It's a cougar. No, not Courtney Cox, but the fourth-largest cat on earth (8 feet long, 200 lbs), also known as a mountain lion, puma, or catamount. Last week marked the 4th unconfirmed cougar sighting in Chicago's North Shore this year, in addition to earlier sightings in April, July, and August in nearby Glencoe.

In an effort to track the Winnetka cougar down, a wildlife expert from DeKalb, Robert Erickson, installed motion-activated infrared trail cameras all over town. But his hopes aren't very high, since cougars can cover 18 miles in a single day. He says the Winnetka cougar is probably a 2-year-old male who got kicked out of home by its mother, "like a teenager in trouble." Young cougars typically leave their mothers behind in spring and summer.

Believe it or not, cougars aren't unprecedented in Chicago. In 2008, police shot and killed a 150-pound cougar in a backyard in Roscoe Village (just a few blocks from the Addison Brown Line station) after it allegedly charged them, while the homeowner hid in the house with his wife and their 3-year-old son; here's WGN's coverage of the incident.

But Illinois doesn't have a sustained cougar population, so where are these giant cats coming from?

Tests on the cougar killed in 2008 showed a DNA link to fellow cats in South Dakota's Black Hills, meaning it would have traveled almost 1,000 miles through 3 states to wind up in a Chicagoan's backyard. The past few years, cougar spottings have been increasing throughout the Midwest, especially in Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin, most of them genetically related to the Black Hills sample group.

Click here for a map of cougar sightings outside of their normal Western range.

The wandering cougars may be looking for better food sources. This summer, in particular, the cougars may have been driven east by drought, where they would've found plenty of easy meals in the forest preserves of Chicagoland, thanks to the EHD epidemic that has killed hundreds of local deer. Luckily, neither cougars nor humans can contract EHD.

If you spot a cougar in Chicagoland (and you aren't at a Viagra Triangle club), call 911 immediately. Here's an identification guide from The Cougar Network. Attacks on humans are thankfully rare, since cougars don't recognize us as prey, but you should still stay as far away from them as possible.


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    I hope this one's not going to get shot and killed too. Tranquilize and relocate please.

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    No, they killed the cougar when it tried to escape. I saw the video ... it was explained that way as well originally. They could not take the chance that someone (especially a small child) could be hurt if it got away. It never attacked...

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    Agreed, Pamela. Lynbir, the cat wouldn't have attacked someone. It just wanted to get away, far more afraid of them than they were of the cat. The concern is invalid. Might as well shoot and kill every car on the road, since the kid is in far greater danger of being killed by a car than a cougar.

    We need to stop seeing ourselves as somehow above and separate from the rest of the planet's beings... and stop making choices to kill based on ignorance and irrational, unsubstantiated fear.

  • I see no one, including the author, consulted experts before

    From a 2008 Trib article about that cougar:

    Most wildlife experts who have dealt with the potentially dangerous animal, also known as a mountain lion, said it's difficult to criticize the Chicago Police Department's decision to shoot the cougar Monday saying that such animals pose a threat to humans and are difficult to effectively tranquilize.

    "Determining what you have to do for public safety can be a gray area," said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for California's Department of Fish and Game.

    "It's hard to get close enough to get the dart in the right area," said Martarano, who said the darts have no effect if they hit a bone. "It takes a while for the drugs to take effect, and during that period the animal can get agitated. If a lot of people are around, that can cause problems in itself."

    John Taylor said, "Lynbir, the cat wouldn't have attacked someone."

    You must be far better than the world's best experts on these situations to make such an absolute statement. Care to present your credentials?

    JT said, "We need to stop seeing ourselves as somehow above and separate from the rest of the planet's beings... and stop making choices to kill based on ignorance and irrational, unsubstantiated fear."

    You and others like you need to stop seeing yourselves as somehow above and separate from the rest of us humans, including the experts. You need to stop making statements about not killing based on your own ignorance and your irrational, unsubstantiated opinion.

  • Thanks for the article, Nate! Didn't realize how tough it was to tranq a cougar.

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    Hey wow - go figure - a mountain lion tranqued and relocated from downtown Reno. I guess it can be done.

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