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Cougars, too?   Coyotes may have a challenger

A long-wandering cougar an exotic pet thescaped from someone or perhaps just housecphotographed from misleading angle? This kitty was photographed

A long-wandering cougar, an exotic pet that escaped from someone, or perhaps just a housecat photographed from a misleading angle? This kitty was photographed by a motion-activated camera on Nov. 23 at the edge of a cornfield south of Plank Road, in Plato Township by bowhunter Pat Crawford. Sun-Times Media~File Photo

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Updated: November 15, 2012 6:07AM

Coyotes aren’t the only big predators making news this fall.

A motorist driving along Schaumburg Road just west of Roselle Road on a recent evening reported to police seeing a cougar, or mountain lion. Others had reported seeing cougars in Barrington Hills about a week before, and in Highland Park, Northfield and Winnetka earlier in the summer.

Officially, cougars have been nonexistent in Illinois for more than 100 years, and wildlife experts say most reports are likely cases of mistaken identity. But after a genuine 120-pound male cougar was found walking through a residential neighborhood on Chicago’s Roscoe Village and was shot dead by a police officer in April 2008, even wildlife experts had to admit at least some of these reports could be legitimate.

Speaking at a McGraw Wildlife Foundation/Brookfield Zoo conference about urban cougars in 2010, a biologist who examined the Chicago cougar’s corpse and DNA said that it almost certainly had walked all the way to Chicago from the Black Hills of South Dakota.

For Kane County residents, the new sightings reawaken memories of 2007-09, when what The Courier-News dubbed “the Plank Road Panther” reportedly was spotted as many as 16 times. Our news reports about him or her began when a hunter’s motion-activated camera captured the blurry image of a beefy, dark-colored cat in a backyard near Plank and Muirhead roads in November 2008. Several others reported spotting large cats in the Plato Center area between spring 2008 and March 2009, usually at night. The closest sightings to downtown Elgin came from the rear of the Randall Road Target store and from the intersection of McLean Boulevard and Big Timber Road.

By fall 2009, the center of gravity of such reports had shifted to Bartlett and DuPage County — which are connected to Plato Center by a Canadian National railroad line.

One intriguing incident occurred on March 17, 2009, when someone called The Courier to report that they had found a dead cougar lying alongside Route 47 in Pingree Grove. A reporter went to the scene and found not a cougar but a dead white-tail deer that apparently had been killed by a car, then dragged through the snow about 20 feet, and then partly eaten up.

No, it was no cougar. But what kind of animal had been strong enough to drag this full-grown deer, weighing perhaps 100 pounds or more, through snow that far, and then had been hungry enough to eat half of it?

Could it indeed have been a cougar? Or was it perhaps a pack of coyotes, each just a fourth or a third as big as that bulky carcass, working together in the night?

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