There has been some hysteria in response to a recent cougar sighting at East Branch forest preserve in Glendale Heights, IL. The sighting occurred January 19th at a forest preserve that is in a very populated and suburban area outside of Chicago. This was a shock to many and almost unheard of for the area. Some questions that need to be answered are: Was there actually a cougar in the suburbs of Chicago? Is there any threat to me or my pets? Lastly, what should I do if I think I see a cougar?
Disclaimer: All the opinions below are my own. When dealing with any wildlife there is a chance of serious injury or death. Always take necessary precautions and contact local authorities for any concerns or questions.
Was there a cougar in the suburbs of Chicago?
Cougars used to occupy the entire United States, currently they are primarily found in 14 western states with a small endangered population in Florida. Although the typical range of a cougar does not include Illinois, cougars can travel extremely long distances in a relatively short amount of time. In less than a year a cougar had moved 660 miles from the Wyoming Black Hills to just south of Kansas and another dispersed north and east about 400 some miles through North Dakota and now is in northern Minnesota (as of Jan 2005 still moving east).(Mahaffy 2004). With this data being true, a cougar moving from Minnesota or Iowa to Illinois is well within the realm of possibilities
Cougars have been shown to use waterways as corridors for both travel and hunting. The area where this cougar was sighted has the East Branch of DuPage river flowing through it. This water way connects with many others in the area. If a cougar was following waterways there is a good chance at some point the animal would have meet this riverway.
One must also recognize that there have been other sightings in the area in recent history. The most recent and probably most infamous sighting was on the North Side of Chicago (Wilmette) where police officers were forced to shoot a cougar that was roaming the neighborhood after the animal became aggressive towards the officers.
Although it is rare to see a cougar in the area there have been previous sightings. Research into their travel patterns also shows that the animals are capable of traveling the large distances to reach well beyond their normal range.
Is there any threat to me or my pets?
Cougars are most active from dusk to dawn. This is the time you would least likely be in any area where a cougar might be, at least in the area where the sighting was reported. Although cougars are opportunistic predators, the animals that do attack humans usually do so because of extenuating circumstances such as starvation, injury, or regular human contact. Statistics from the Arizona Fish and Game Department show that there have 102 total attacks this includes fatal and non- fatal in North America since 1890. A large portion of which occurred on Vancouver Island, Canada that has an extremely high cougar population. This statistic is extremely low when compared to the 5000 rattle snake bites or 20 deadly dog attacks annually.
As for your pets. There have been a large number of reports of cougars attacking dogs. In almost all of the cases the dog was left unsupervised in a non-fenced in yard. These reports are from areas with established cougar populations. So in the Chicagoland area it would be unbelievably improbable.
Answer: There is no way to guarantee anything with any wildlife, but it is extremely unlikely that in the Chicagoland area a cougar would pose any threat to you or your pets.
What should I do if I think I see a cougar?
First off it is important to know what a cougar looks likes, because there are a variety of native animals that can be mistaken for a cougar by the untrained eye.
Western Wildlife Outreach gave the following description of a Cougar:
The cougar is the second largest member of the cat family in the western hemisphere (the jaguar is the largest) and the largest of the North American wild cats. On average, adult male cougars stand about 30 inches at the shoulders, are about 7 to 8 feet long from nose to the tip of their tail (the tail is about 1/3 of that length), and weigh about 120 to 160 pounds. Large males can reach up to 180 pounds but that is very uncommon. Adult female cougars are usually about 25% smaller than male cougars (about 85 to 110 pounds).
Cougars can be identified by two primary characteristics: the pelage or coat of adult cougars is uniformly colored tawny, grey-brown or red-brown, and a very thick and long black-tipped tail which measures about half of their body length. The tail serves to counter-balance the cougar’s movements as they pursue prey and travel across the landscape.
Canadian Geographic recommends these techniques to thwart a cougar attack:
If in Illinois sighting should be reported to the state at 847-608-3100