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Jim died on the Ides of March, 2007, of lung cancer.
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The Almanac was the love of his life (after myself!) and I will do my best to update the site regularly again beginning in April. The cougar section may take me more time to bring up-to-date, as he had fallen behind on it while devoting his energies to researching Weird Egypt in the last two active years of his life.
In reverse chronological order
The Mercer County Cat
Both Dr. Nielsen and Kenny Tharp (who recovered the body of the Mercer County cat) were kind enough to share their observations concerning the cat recovered near the Quad Cities area in December 2004.
Mr. Tharp's Story:
Kenny Tharp told me in a phone interview that he did not discover the body of the cat. Other individuals engaged in a deer drive made the actual discovery but because of fear of retribution (?!?) from the Department of Natural Resources they decided to leave it in the woods. Kenny followed their directions to the site and recovered the body.
He was emphatic that the animal did not die from an arrow wound as previously reported. Based on his observations - both while moving the body at the site and during his skinning of the animal - that the animal died from what is probably a self-inflicted wound. This interpretation was corroborated by a vet who was called to examine the animal immediately after its recovery.
According to Kenny the cat apparently leaped onto some sharp object - probably a metal stake of some sort. According to Kenny the entry to the wound was on the underside of the body (an unlikely entry point for an arrow). When the cat's body was moved large quantities of lymph and pus were under the cat - the result of infection.
While skinning the animal preparatory to having it mounted he
stated that he did not find any evidence of tattoos, collar marks, pad
wear, de-clawing, or anything else that would suggest this was an
Dr. Clay Nielsen's (Tentative) Necropsy Results:
According to Dr. Nielsen the Mercer County Cat was a relatively young male (though no age has yet been determined at the time of this posting). The cat was healthy at the time it was wounded, contained ample reserves of body fat, was well-muscled and fit. It suffered a wound that completely penetrated the body . The cat's last meal consisted of grass. No other food was present in the digestive tract indicating that the cat hadn't fed in several days. Cause of death was from dehydration.
Apparently the wound was so badly infected that the animal was unable to hunt and feed itself. Based on the amount of fluid oozing from the wound it was almost certainly delirious from fever and unable to get to water. The presence of grass in the animal's stomach was no surprise to Dr. Nielsen. In his study of bobcat populations in southern Illinois he noted that 10% of all roadkilled bobcats also had grass in their stomachs
At the time of this posting DNA results were still pending.
Cougar Tracks Becoming Common in Randolph and Perry Counties
As mentioned earlier we were called to Pinckneyville, Illinois in Perry County to look at some tracks discovered there. And we found them ... lots of them!
The tracks were located in an area on the edge of an old strip mine just south of town. A large spoil pile next to a small pond is being used as a source of fill dirt by local residents and as a result the ground in the immediate area is level, free of vegetation and - in wet weather - turns soft. Large numbers of tracks were present at the site: raccoons, possums, deer in large numbers, bobcats, turkey and cougar.
We discovered dozens of cougar tracks here and managed to get reasonably good plaster casts of half a dozen. We also photographed them (see right) in both stereo and single shot photos. There were reports that just prior to the tracks discovery a large cougar was repeatedly seen in the area. A resident who drives the nearby road every day on her way to work reported having to sound her horn in order to get the cat to move off the roadway just prior to the time of the tracks discovery. This site is literally a stone's throw from Pyramid State Park - a hotbed of sightings.
Since that time we've found more tracks in southern Randolph County near the Piney Creek Nature Preserve. It should be noted that this expedition was unrelated to cougars (we were mapping a new petroglyph site) and these tracks were just stumbled over. One of my companions on this expedition was visiting from California and identified them as belonging to a cougar. Had he not been along it's doubtful that your humble (and unobservant) author would even have seen them.
Upcoming Photos from Randolph County
A gentleman of unimpeachable character has photographed a cougar he spotted behind his house near the very rural village of Ellis Grove, Illinois. Ellis Grove is just north of the Menard Prison property in Randolph County which was the site of the first confirmed cougar kill in Illinois in 2000. Unfortunately he isn't on-line and his photos are the old fashioned kind – on film – and he's unable to e-mail them to us. Due to scheduling difficulties we're having trouble hooking up but we hope to obtain copies very soon. The photographs were made with a disposable camera since his 35mm SLR was out of commission at the time. The cat was 150 feet from the lens when the photos were taken. A few days later this same animal came within 75 feet of his wife while she was out in the yard alone forcing her to take refuge in their garage until the cat left.
Sangamon County News:
An informant from Sangamon County has reported seeing a pair of cougars one large and one smaller using night vision goggles. Significantly he wasn't looking for cougars. He states that he frequently hikes the woods and fields at night with his night vision goggles and has seen large cats on numerous occasions. For those with the equipment and inclination this might be a fruitful technique for spotting the animals and perhaps censusing populations.
Missouri Bombshell (1991!)
The Missouri Department of Conservation discovered that one of their dead cougars was a female! Surpisingly this occurred in 1991 when cougars were just beginning to be noticed in Missouri. So far as anyone knows this animal wasn't DNA tested (or at least the information wasn't released) so it isn't clear whether female cougars are now moving into our area from the west or if this was an escaped or released captive. But either way this is a paradigm shifting change in the cougar story here in the central US.
For those following the story of cougar range expansion this is a development of the first order. If female cougars are now present in Missouri then breeding is occurring there. And if they've made to Missouri there is nothing to stop them from entering Illinois and the eastern US.
Taken together these findings paint a very exciting or disturbing picture (depending on your point of view). Cougars are now demonstrably reestablishing themselves in the midwest.
As we've said before, wildlife biologists are conservative in their judgements and can only go as far in their pronouncements concerning recent cougar immigration as the evidence at their disposal permits - a completely responsible position and one dictated by their profession and the scientific method. However we at this website are not so constrained (though we'd like to think we're just as responsible), so I'll take this opportunity to indulge in some informed speculation and make a few predictions ...
Since beginning this website's Cougar Watch page - and all the research and investigation it entails - certain patterns and trends have become apparent. As for patterns, these are:
This pattern has been consistent throughout the states west of the Mississippi where cougar immigration has been documented - Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota. And it is now being played out in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin and Tennessee as these animals cross into the eastern US. Significantly, the documented observations always lag behind the actual conditions prevailing in the state where this occurs. In other words, by the time there is actual verified documentation of any particular phase of colonization, the cougar population has already moved on to the next stage of colonization.
Therefore - based on the evidence as it now stands - we can say with a fair degree of certainty that there are now female cougars entering Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee and they are (or soon will be) in the initial stages of establishing a breeding population here. And while we have no hard evidence to support this assertion, we have a great deal of observational data to support it.
We will therefore go out on a limb and predict that within two or three years (at most) hard, verifiable data concerning cougar breeding will surface somewhere immediately west of the Mississippi in either Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas or Iowa, followed a few years later by evidence of cougar breeding east of the river. It's my guess that the first evidence for cougar breeding east of the river will be found in Illinois - most probably in Randolph County.
So stay tuned ... and keep checking this site for more information!
Related, Odd news - the Blynx
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