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Cougar found in northwest Illinois

This cougar was shot killed by an Illinois Department Natural Reources conservati police officer Nov. 20 far northwest Whiteside County

This cougar was shot and killed by an Illinois Department of Natural Reources conservation police officer on Nov. 20 in far northwest Whiteside County after it was spotted underneath a corncrib on a farm there. | Photo courtesy of IDNR

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Updated: December 23, 2013 3:00PM

Wildlife biologists will examine the remains of a cougar found on a farm near Morrison in rural Whiteside County in an effort to learn more about the animal’s recent history and origin, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday.

According to a press release from the department, an IDNR conservation police officer on Nov. 20 responded to a call from a Whiteside County farm owner that a large cat had been seen leaving a cornfield in the far northwest Illinois county and running toward the farm owner’s home and outbuildings. The officer went to the farm and, after talking with the farm owner’s wife and checking a horse barn and lot where the landowner’s horses were located, he spotted the cougar in a concrete tunnel beneath a corn crib.

After consulting with the farm owner’s wife and IDNR law enforcement and wildlife personnel, and at the farm owner’s request, it was determined that the cougar should be euthanized. The officer killed the animal with his IDNR-issued rifle, the release said.

The cougar appeared to weigh more than 100 pounds and was 5½ to 6 feet in length. Wildlife biologists will take possession of the animal and conduct a necropsy, according to the IDNR.

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, were extirpated from Illinois before 1870 and are not protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code, the release said. There is no evidence that a resident breeding population exists in Illinois, but occasional transient cougars have been found in the state in recent years, likely dispersing from states to the west of Illinois, including South Dakota, it said.

There were three confirmed cougars in Illinois between 2002 and 2008. A male was killed by a train in Randolph County in 2002. Another male was killed by a hunter in Mercer County in 2004. A third male was shot and killed on the north side of Chicago in 2008. Analysis indicates these three animals were genetically similar to mountain lions from South Dakota, but their history in the wild is uncertain, the IDNR said.

More recently, images taken by trail cameras in Jo Daviess County (September 2012) and in Morgan, Pike and Calhoun counties (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, the release said.

There also have been unconfirmed reports of cougar sightings in Kane and DuPage counties in recent years.

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