The animal weighed more than 120 pounds and was more than 5-feet long from nose to tail. He was healthy and likely looking for a mate but got caught in an unfamiliar urban environment. DNA technology tells his family history and the movement of his species.
Cougars are rarely seen by humans. They are solitary. They travel and feed at night. So, understandably, the male that was shot and killed in Chicago earlier this month got a lot of attention.
Testing on the animal revealed he was in good shape, good muscling, likely from a diet of deer, and that his journey began 800 miles away. He is linked genetically to the closest cougar population in the Black Hills of South Dakota. After about a year males are forced to find their own territory. In January he was spotted in Milton, Wisconsin, where he cut his toe jumping from the second story of a barn, leaving blood behind. With that genetic material, scientists say that cougar was the one killed in Chicago.
"Because he was so well-muscled and so well kept in terms of his coat and things like that, we assume he's been eating quite a bit of deer meat and that is their natural source of food," said Dr. Donna Alexander, Cook County Animal and Rabies Control.
The administrator of Cook County Animal and Rabies Control says they typically deal with stray domesticated animals but research on the Chicago cougar will help everyone.
"What we're learning is how they're growing, how their population is growing, what their migratory pattern is going to be, and what we need to do to co-exist," said Alexander.
Zoologist Bruce Patterson says cougars once roamed the entire North American continent. Now most are out west. But, increasingly, he says the animals are being spotted around the Midwest. Patterson says the nature of cougars will send them into new territory.
"They are increasing, and as they do, they'll continue to explore all the nooks and crannies where deer can be found and where they might find a mate," said Dr. Bruce Patterson, Field Museum.
In the Midwest many call the animals cougars. Out west they call them mountain lions, but their Latin name is puma.
The puma found in Chicago is estimated to be about 2 years old. More testing on his teeth will determine his age and which family of cougars he is from.