Saturday, April 04, 2009

Elusive cougar 1, Wisconsin DNR 0

By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Published April 04 2009

Remember that cougar spotted last month near Spooner? Wisconsin officials said Friday that they have officially lost track of it.

Hunters with dogs first tracked the big cat, believed to be a young male, and reported it to the Department of Natural Resources.

DNR officials tried unsuccessfully to tranquilize the cougar and fit it with a radio collar March 5. They managed to tree it several times with the help of the hunters and their dogs. But both times the cat eluded them.

Melting snow made it harder to see where the animal was roaming. Officials lost track of the cougar near Wisconsin Highway 70 on the Washburn-Burnett County line.

Biologists want to know if the cougar stays in Northwestern Wisconsin or moves on to another state. They also want to know how it interacts with humans, cars, highways, livestock and other wildlife.

It was never determined whether the animal was wild or an escaped or released pet, although it hasn’t been seen near homes — an indication that it was wild. DNA samples gathered by the DNR may help explain where the animal came from. But it will take weeks to get those results back.

“We really haven’t had any solid evidence of it since” March 5, Wisconsin DNR biologist Adrian Wydeven said. “Who knows where this one is now? It’s surprising how far they can go very quickly.”

Ken Jonas, another DNR wildlife biologist, asked anyone who sees a cougar to call the DNR wildlife office in Park Falls, Wis., at (715) 762-1363. A few people have called with reports that have yet to be verified.

The last wild population of cougars in the region was wiped out decades ago. But experts said the animal’s success elsewhere could spur a comeback in Northwestern Wisconsin, especially considering the large deer population on which the big cats can feed.

While cougar sightings are common in the Northland, few are confirmed. This was Wisconsin’s second confirmed cougar sighting in two years. A cougar was seen in Rock County, in southern Wisconsin, last year and later shot and killed in Illinois. Officials say they have no intention of killing the Washburn County cougar but simply want to collar it to monitor its habits.

Wydeven said the DNR also is looking at possible cougar tracks near Racine, in southern Wisconsin. The agency has sent a scat sample to a lab for genetic testing.


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