After the cougar population was hunted out of the state in the 1870s, sighting the cat in Illinois was akin to spotting Bigfoot.
But after a cougar was killed on a farm near Morrison on Wednesday, officials from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources believe it’s possible more cougars could make their way to northern Illinois.
“We’ll probably see more and more of this in years to come,” said Tim Schweizer, spokesman for the IDNR. “It certainly is possible.”
Schweizer said there is no evidence of any breeding populations of cougars in the state, but there are breeding cougars in states to the west such as South Dakota and Nebraska. And with frequent sightings in other surrounding states including Michigan and Iowa, it’s not unrealistic to think sightings will increase in Illinois, he said.
The cougar killed Wednesday was seen leaving a cornfield and running toward a farmer’s home near Morrison. Morrison is about 100 miles southwest of Marengo in Whiteside County.
An IDNR officer killed the cougar at the request of a farmer who was concerned for his horses.
The cat was more than 100 pounds and measured 5 ∏ feet. The cougar’s body was taken to Brookfield Zoo for an autopsy and to determine its recent history and origin.
The last confirmed cougar sighting in the state was in 2012 when a trail camera caught the animal on the move through central Illinois, Schweizer said. The last time a cougar was physically seen in the state was in 2008 when one made its way to Chicago’s north side and was cornered in a resident’s side yard. It was killed when it tried to attack one of the officers.
Confirmed cougar sightings have been extremely rare in Illinois, but there are the occasional calls from residents who believe they’ve spotted the cat, Schweizer said. Almost all of those calls prove to be unfounded or cases of mistaken identity. In most cases the animal turns out to be a bobcat or a coyote, Schweizer said.
If a person does come in contact with a cougar, it’s best to make yourself big and loud in order to scare the animal away, Schweizer said.
“The best thing you can do is yell, stomp, scream and hope it runs off,” he said.