Cougars in McHenry County? Not likely, officials say

Some McHenry County residents claim to have seen a cougar in the area, and they don’t mean the pitching staff from Kane County.

Facebook has been abuzz this month with comments from residents who believe they have spotted a cougar in the county, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is aware of one report of a cougar near Grass Lake Road in Spring Grove.

But according to IDNR Administrator Dan Ludwig, the likelihood of a cougar actually being in the county is slim.

“We handle a lot of these types of calls,” Ludwig said. “So many turn out to be ­coyotes or big dogs.”

Ludwig said IDNR doesn’t take a report seriously until there is visual evidence of a cougar or other signs that one is in the area, such as droppings or dead animal carcasses. Cougars are “biologically interesting,” Ludwig said, and there is no reason to believe the animal is in the area.

On Facebook, Deborah Wilde posted that she is aware of at least three cougar sightings in the Spring Grove area. One sighting was near Blarney’s Island Bar on Grass Lake Road, another was near the Lotus School parking lot, and the third was also by Lotus School.

After the Northwest Herald posted to its Facebook account Tuesday that the IDNR had received a cougar report but it was not substantiated, commenter Daniel Ottlinger posted: “There is def (sic) some in McHenry County … I saw one dart across Rt 14 in Crystal Lake by MCC after 10:30 p.m. at about 50 mph the other night. It was no coyote!”

Alison Briginshaw posted to Facebook that she also had seen a cougar in the area.

“I live in rural Marengo,” she wrote. “A cougar ran across my lawn! I used to volunteer at a cougar rescue, there was no mistaking, this was a cougar, seen by my neighbors and hunting friends, also seen his or her territory markings and smelled the recent strong urine only a few feet away from my back door. They are out there!”

Although rare, it is not unheard of that a cougar has made its way through Illinois. In October 2012, the Chicago Tribune reported that a man spotted a cougar in the woods west of Springfield. The man managed to take a photo of the cat with one of his trail cameras.

The photo was authenticated by state officials and was “among the clearest photos taken of a cougar in Illinois in recent memory,” the Tribune reported. It was just the fourth confirmed cougar sighting since the animal was driven out of Illinois in the 1800s, the newspaper said.

Wendy Kummerer, communications manager for the McHenry County Conservation District, said the county has never had a confirmed cougar sighting, and MCCD hasn’t received a call about a cougar in the past eight months.

“We get calls, but we’ve never had anything confirmed,” Kummerer said. “We take calls seriously. Our specialist will go out to the site and look for fur, droppings and other signs. But we always come up with nothing.”

Kummerer said that while the chance of a cougar is rare, the community should still be alert and report a sighting to the conservation district or the IDNR.

“It’s rare, but it’s not impossible,” she said.

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