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A Cougar Crackdown in Illinois

By JoshMogerman in News on Nov 24, 2013 4:40PM

It seems like we run a story about mountain lion sightingsaround about this time every year, when early darkness makes jittery suburbanites worry about what might be prowling in their back yards—except that it seems clearer and clearer that those cougar concerns are likely founded. Though extirpated from Illinois in the 1860’s, sightings and science are showing mountain lions are becoming regular visitors to the region.

There’s a new round of evidence in Illinois with an unconfirmed photo of a mountain lion captured on a trail camera outside Carlinville (near St. Louis) and a very much confirmed sighting in Morrison (about 130 miles west of Chicago).

And by confirmed, we mean shot dead.

On Wednesday, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation officer killed a 100+ pound puma (yes, mountain lion, cougar and puma all refer to the same critter) found hunkered down in a concrete tunnel underneath a corncrib. Biologists will use genetic testing to determine where the animal came from this week.

This state has not exactly been a good host for visiting big cats. The Morrison mountain lion was the 4th confirmed cougar kill in Illinois since 2002, including the animal famously taken down in a Roscoe Village alley back in 2008.

The increasing frequency of pumas popping into Illinois strikes us as something that requires a bit of planning. Its tough to argue with lethal measures in the midst of a dense Chicago neighborhood, but there have been criticisms of this latest cougar killing from the Field Museum's Curator of Mammals in the Trib.

We reached out to the Natural Resources Defense Council's Lands and Wildlife Director Andrew Wetzler, who happens to be based in Chicago, to get his take:

The state needs regulations and a management plan so that when mountain lions cross the state line, there are very clear protocols on how the animals will be dealt with. We need to protect people's safety, but that doesn't mean that we can just make itchy trigger fingers standard operating procedure.

With large deer populations causing problems in many suburbs, the “biological services” offered by these animals would be pretty valuable—just like the job Chicago’s resident coyotes are doing to keep area rats, rabbits and mice in check.