Loading

53°F

52°F

57°F

53°F

57°F

53°F

54°F

56°F

57°F
NEWS STORIES

Cougars Confirmed in WISubmitted: 08/17/2010
Story By WI DNR

MADISON - A few drops of blood, preserved by an alert warden, proves that while one male cougar was tracking through St. Croix and Dunn counties this past December, another male cougar was moving near the Flambeau River, 125 miles to the north.

This cougar, crossing a road, was spotted by a female bus driver east of Park Falls. Warden Dan Michels responded and followed the animal's tracks into a cedar swamp where he spotted tiny blood drops behind the cougar's tracks. He collected them in a test tube, froze the contents and submitted them for DNA analysis.

No other sightings of a cougar in that vicinity were reported, and no more evidence was found. Still, the science is irrefutable. The bus driver had seen a wild North American cougar, a male.

The discovery points to just one of the challenges faced by Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials during the past two and a half years as they deal with the first confirmed cougars in Wisconsin since the last cougar native to the state was killed in or around 1908.

A series of incidents in Juneau County during the past several months has proven especially problematic. In May, a hunter reported seeing a cougar attacking a heifer. The cow had to be put down due to injuries. Later, after several sheep were attacked by an animal and killed, and instances of injured horses were reported on two different farms, it was widely assumed to be the work of the same animal, believed to be a cougar.

Later, the hunter was interviewed by a DNR biologist and his descriptions, by his own admission, fall short of a positive identification. The predator he saw was covered with mud and appeared to be less than half the size and length of a young adult cougar.

In Wisconsin, Wildlife Services (WS) part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture responds to reports of livestock depredations under a contract with the DNR. WS agents are skilled at responding to predation by other predators, such as bear and wolf, and at trapping predators when necessary. However, despite an ongoing effort by WS and DNR to capture any predator responsible for these animal attacks in Juneau County, none has been located. None have been captured on night cameras at bait sites or by tracking dogs. At this time, no prints that can be definitely attributed to a cougar have been found, no blood, no hair, no scat and no urine. Hunting dogs have failed to pick up a trail.

Faced with this mystery, DNR officials collected all the reports, photographs and other evidence from the Juneau County investigations and submitted them to a panel of four internationally recognized cougar experts through a scientific organization called the Cougar Network.

None of these experts could confirm the presence of a cougar, based on evidence collected so far. The experts acknowledged that their opinions were based on reports, and not on field investigations.

DNR officials, acting on reports from Juneau County residents, including unconfirmed sightings, are proceeding on the belief that the presence of a cougar is possible. Efforts to trap or to locate and kill the animal causing these injuries will continue.

In the meantime, the DNR has formed a cougar working group that includes a Wildlife Services supervisor and a Conservation Congress delegate from Juneau County. The group is collecting information from cougar experts elsewhere and is preparing a detailed protocol for how the DNR will respond to cougar sightings in the future.

DNR biologists have been sent to the Black Hills for hands-on training with cougars, taking part in operations to immobilize cougars and fit them with radio collars. The top cougar biologist from the Black Hills, John Kanta, came to Wisconsin two weeks ago to assist Wisconsin's cougar working group. He calls these elusive cats mountain lions.

"We've never had anyone fatally attacked by a mountain lion," Kanta said. "Your chance of even seeing a mountain lion, in mountain lion country, is a million to one."

The Wisconsin group will not be working on a cougar management plan. The cougars detected so far have been young males seeking new territory. They probably originated in the Black Hills of South Dakota. No females have been detected in Wisconsin and there is no evidence of a breeding population.

Female cougars tend to migrate no more than a couple hundred miles. Breeding populations east of the Black Hills would have to be established, scientists believe, before female cougars could be expected to arrive in Wisconsin, a process that could take 10 or more years, if it happens at all.

In the meantime, the DNR will continue to take all reports of cougar attacks on livestock seriously and to work with Wildlife Services to investigate any reports.

DNR officials emphasized that citizen observations are critical to this effort and they are asking landowners and outdoor enthusiasts to become familiar with the "rare mammal observation form" on the DNR's website. This and much more can be found by typing "cougar" into the search box on the home page.

Although the DNR has been collecting reports of possible cougar observations since 1991, biologists were never able to confirm the presence of a cougar, or to find a single decent cougar track in the state, until January 2008 when a cougar observation near Milton was confirmed by prints and DNA tests of a blood sample. That cougar was killed by Chicago police in April 2008.

In March 2009, a cougar was treed by hunters just west of Spooner. Attempts to capture the cougar were unsuccessful and it disappeared, its fate a mystery. In late May 2009, a Pepin County farmer discovered tracks near his livestock pen and Wydeven confirmed they belonged to a large cat.

Then in December, a cougar that likely crossed the frozen St. Croix River from Minnesota moved through St. Croix, Dunn (and probably Eau Claire and Clark counties) where tracks show it turning north. Tests reveal this same cougar, now dubbed the "Twin Cities cougar," was tracked near Cable in Bayfield County in February.

Since this cat appeared in December, there have been more than 10 confirmed cougar or cougar sign observations in western Wisconsin and one near Lena in northeast Wisconsin. A half dozen of these are believed to be the Twin Cities cougar.

Using DNA tests processed by the federal Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana, DNR biologists have been able to confirm the presence of four individual cougars in Wisconsin, all males, counting the one killed in Chicago. Whether these four account for all the observations is not known.

One thing is clear cougars have proven to be very adept at covering large distances in Wisconsin without being noticed. DNR biologists say these cougars tend to move 5 to 7 miles a day. A DNR biologist tracking the cougar in Dunn County reported it stopped in one area for at least two days after killing and caching a fawn buck, returning at least once to continue its meal.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Adrian Wydeven - (715) 762-1363.

Text Size: + Increase | Decrease -
Print Story | Email Story
Sponsored in part by HodagSports.com





 IN OTHER NEWS
Police looking for suspect in a theft of 23 carsSubmitted: 10/01/2014

EVEREST AREA - Everest Metro Police want to find who tried to steal from 23 cars in the past week. Almost all the cars were left unlocked.

Some car owners lost money and other property. Some of the cars were inside an unlocked garage.

+ Read More
Teenagers open long-awaited grocery store in WabenoSubmitted: 10/01/2014

WABENO - Wabeno has been hungry for a grocery story since its last one closed years ago.

Now, the community has one, and customers are in for a surprise.

"They're like, is the owner or manager here? I'm like, I'm right here," says 17-year-old Kaitlyn Ashbeck.

Twins Kaitlyn and Abigail Ashbeck opened Ashbeck's One Stop this summer at age 16.

+ Read More
Organizers prepare for Cranberry FestSubmitted: 10/01/2014

EAGLE RIVER - Cranberry Fest draws about 40,000 people to Eagle River each year. Organizers think this year will be no exception.

They started preparing the fairgrounds on Wednesday for this weekend's festival.

A majority of people who come to the festival are visiting from out of town.

+ Read More
Tour and workshop to help businesses draw more customers to Northwoods Submitted: 10/01/2014

VILAS COUNTY - The beautiful scenery, resorts, and other attractions draw many tourists to the Northwoods.

Local businesses want to keep it that way.

While the summer season wrapped up a month ago, some businesses are already thinking about next summer.

+ Read More
Walker slightly ahead of Burke in new pollSubmitted: 10/01/2014

MADISON - With less than five weeks until Election Day, a new poll shows Gov. Scott Walker is slightly ahead of Democrat Mary Burke in the race for Wisconsin governor.

The Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday shows Walker with 50.5 percent support among likely voters compared with 44.7 percent for Burke.

That 5.8-point lead is just above the poll's 4.5 percentage point margin of error.

+ Read More
Craft brewing discussion teaches public about beer industrySubmitted: 10/01/2014

Play Video

MINOCQUA - Brewing craft beers in Wisconsin gets more popular every year. People always want to learn more about it.

Minocqua Brewing Company turned into a classroom for beer enthusiasts Wednesday night. Experts from around the state shared the history and science of making beer in Wisconsin.

People could also learn how big of an industry brewing is turning into.

+ Read More
Young eagles struggling to find foodSubmitted: 10/01/2014

RHINELANDER - Birds of prey in the Northwoods could struggle to find food this fall. Young eagles in particular are struggling to feed right now. Animal rehabilitation groups have seen spikes in the number of starving eagles this year. The late start to the spring may be one of the problems.

"It's not the most amount of eagles that we've ever had, but it's the largest amount of starved juvenile eagles that we've ever had," said Wild Instincts Director Mark Naniot. "We saw a lot of the eagle chicks coming in that were very small compared to what we usually see. They normally fledge around the 4th of July or about a week before they start leaving the nest. We were getting some that were not even close to leaving the nest at the end of July."

+ Read More
+ More General News
Search: 




Click Here