On Wednesday, an IDNR conservation police officer responded to a call from a Whiteside County farm owner that a large cat had been seen leaving a corn field, running toward the farm owner's home and outer buildings. When the officer arrived at the farm, he the farm owner's wife showed the officer to a horse barn, and the cougar was found in a concrete tunnel beneath a corn crib.
After discussion with the homeowners and wildlife officials, it was decided to euthanize the animal. The cougar was killed with a rifle. The cougar appeared to weigh more than 100 pounds and was 5-and-a-half to 6 feet in length.
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, mostly left Illinois before 1870 and are not protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code. Biologist don't believe any cougars regularly live in Illinois, but occasional transient cougars have been found in the state in recent years, likely dispersing from states to the west, including South Dakota.
There were three confirmed cougars in Illinois between 2002 and 2008. A male cougar was killed by a train in Randolph County in 2002. Another male cougar was killed by a hunter in Mercer County in 2004. A third male cougar was shot and killed on the Northwest Side of Chicago in 2008. Although analysis indicates these three animals were genetically similar to mountain lions from South Dakota, their history in the wild is uncertain.
More recently, images taken by trail cameras in Jo Daviess County in September 2012 and in Morgan, Pike and Calhoun counties in October and November 2012 were confirmed by IDNR as showing a live cougar. Given the long distances typically traveled by cougars, and the proximity of the counties, especially Calhoun, Morgan and Pike, it is possible that the camera images may show the same animal.
For more information on cougars, check the Living with Wildlife in Illinois website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/