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In reverse chronological order
Final Notes on 2003
Since this page has gone up we've gotten sighting reports from Connecticut, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Since they're outside the area we cover they haven't been included on this site but we thought we'd mention them here now to show the extent of the phenomenon.
Cougars Breeding in Illinois?
(Ed. Note - Pope County has the largest percentage of National Forest land and the smallest human population of any county in Illinois. With a high deer population and large areas of rugged, rocky and sparsely inhabited areas Pope County is ideal Cougar habitat. The fact that so many reports are coming from this thinly inhabited area is significant...)
The most exciting news are reports of Cougars breeding in Pope County, Illinois - a charge vehemently - and understandably - denied by the Illinois Department of Conservation. After wandering the county for a few afternoons and just talking to numerous folks down there it's pretty apparent that cougars are frequently seen crossing upland fields near the river. While I was there I talked to numerous people who had spotted not only individual cats but also kittens playing in a field.
The July 23 missal from John O'Dell stands out since two cougars were seen walking together. The only time this happens is when the animals are courting or a mother and her kittens are still together. Since cougar "kittens" are two years old and nearly the size of adults when their mother drives them off Mr. Hicks sighting is particularly pertinent.
While I realize that all of these reports are hearsay and therefore somewhat suspect, the large number of reports, the off-hand manner in which people bring it up, the general consensus among Pope County residents of their presence and breeding and the consistency of the observations; taken together are all strong indications that Cougars are breeding in this section of Illinois. But time will tell...
Meanwhile, in Randolph County, Illinois, the home of the only verified cougar sighting in the state, there are several reports of large cats attacking livestock. Both of the attacks we were able to investigate occurred within 7 miles of the location where the first cat was killed in 2000.
Out of our neck of the woods, but still interesting - In Kansas, the presence of a cougar was confirmed by DNA analasis of scat found on the campus of of the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, KS. Read all about it in the Lawrence Journal-World Mountain Lions archive
Well, it's been an interesting couple of months since we put this feature up. We've gotten several e-mails from the Peoria area along the Illinois River that are consistent with former reports from that area throughout the 19th and 20th centuries indicating that cougars are either 1) still present in the area or, more likely, 2) have moved back.
Missouri is heating up with yet another road-killed cat in the Jefferson City area (Cole County) in September of this year that an autopsy revealed was a wild (versus feral) cat bringing Missouri's current total of confirmed cougar kills to seven. We also received an e-mail claiming another cougar road kill in eastern Missouri but we've been unable to verify any of the details on this one. Since we've received almost no usable information from Missouri we're pretty much restricted to what we can glean from the internet.
Randolph County, What's Going On?
(Ed. Note - Randolph County's land use pattern is primarily agricultural with large tracts of open land. Significantly most cougar sightings are near the Mississippi River in the western bluff area which is broken, forested land with a high deer population and excellent cougar habitat...)
In August of 2000 an undeniably wild adult male cougar was killed by a passing train providing the first concrete and indisputable evidence that cougars had returned to Illinois after nearly a century and a half of absence from the state. Since that time cougar sightings have continued along the river bluffs between Chester and the mouth of the Kaskaskia River eight miles to the north.
While Randolph County might seem ill-suited to host a population of cougars there is one factor that makes this area ideal for large cats and that is the presence of Menard State Prison. The land reserved for prison use consists of several square miles of land. Until the 1950's this area was used as a prison farm growing food for the prison population. The prison's farming operations ceased in the 1950's and the land has lain fallow ever since but human access to the area is still (understandably) highly restricted. With a high deer population and no significant human presence this land makes ideal habitat for cougars. The majority of cougar sightings in Randolph County - including the cougar killed by the train - have occurred within eight miles of this reserve.
Since the killing of the county's (supposedly) lone cougar resident it's significant that reports of cougars in the county seem to be on the increase. We've had no reports to indicate that cougars may be breeding in the county [no sightings of cubs or cougars traveling together] but it may be a possibility. Of course with the bridge to Missouri just a few hundred yards away from the prison gate it's equally plausible that this is one of the cougars' entryways into Illinois from Missouri and a constant supply of fresh immigrants is keeping the numbers high.
There were two verbal reports of Cougars near Olive Branch in northern Alexander County and while we consider them plausible we're currently regarding them as hearsay since the observers themselves did not report the sightings. In addition there were sightings in Perry County in the Pyramid State Park area. There are also rumors of the existence of pictures but so far we've been unable to track them down... but we're still trying.
Related, Odd news - the Blynx
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