Cougar Under The Corn Crib: DNR Says Landowners Called The Shots

Nov 21, 2013

The 5-6 ft. male cat found near Morrison, Ill.
Credit Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources (IDNR)

Dept. of Natural Resources employees have discussed adding cougars to the list of protected species in Illinois.

But in a phone interview with WUIS, IDNR spokesman Tim Schweizer said currently "it’s up to the landowner” to decide whether a potentially threatening animal should be put down.  

That's what transpired Wednesday near Morrison, Ill., when a woman and her husband reportedly spotted the large male cougar hiding under their corn crib and asked Conservation Police to dispatch the cat.

Schweizer said IDNR deals with sightings of cougars and other unprotected animals on a case-by-case basis.  Schweizer, who authored the state’s initial press release concerning the animal’s death, added that Conservation Police Officers (CPOs) do not carry tranquilizer guns, nor are they trained to shoot them.

“We expect that in years to come, given the expansion of their home range, that we will probably see more and more transient cougars in the state”, he said.

The University of Illinois Extension’s Living With Wildlife in Illinois website is a resource for people with questions about wildlife management, a public policy matter which Schweizer said is “constantly evolving.”

CORRECTION:  The sex of the animal initially reported by WUIS was inaccurate.  Wildlife biologists have confirmed it to be a male cougar.  We regret the error. 

The following is from IDNR: 

An IDNR Conservation Police Officer (CPO) on Nov. 20 responded to a call from a Whiteside County farm owner that a large cat had been seen exiting a corn field [near Morrison], running toward the farm owner’s home and outbuildings.  When the CPO arrived at the farm, he made contact with the farm owner’s wife, who was in the house, and checked a horse barn and lot where the landowner’s horses were located.  The cougar was discovered in a concrete tunnel beneath a corn crib.

After consulting with the farm owner’s wife and IDNR law enforcement and wildlife personnel, and at the farm owner’s request, it was determined that the cougar should be euthanized.  The CPO dispatched the animal with his IDNR-issued rifle.  The cougar appeared to weigh more than 100 pounds and was 5-and-half to 6-feet in length.  Wildlife biologists will take possession of the animal and conduct a necropsy.

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, were extirpated from Illinois before 1870 and are not protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code. There is no evidence that a resident breeding population exists in Illinois, but occasional transient cougars have been found in the state in recent years, likely dispersing from states to the west of Illinois, including South Dakota.

There were three confirmed cougars in Illinois between 2002 and 2008.  A male was killed by a train in Randolph County in 2002. Another male was killed by a hunter in Mercer County in 2004. A third male was shot and killed on the north side of Chicago in 2008. Although analysis indicates these three animals were genetically similar to mountain lions from South Dakota, their history in the wild is uncertain.

More recently, images taken by trail cameras in Jo Daviess County (September 2012) and in Morgan, Pike and Calhoun counties (October and November 2012) were confirmed by IDNR as showing a live cougar.  Given the long distances typically traveled by cougars, and the proximity of the counties (especially Calhoun, Morgan and Pike), it is possible that the camera images may show the same animal.