EAU CLAIRE – An avid outdoorsman, using a trail camera for the first time on recently purchased land in Buffalo County, came up with pictures of a wild turkey, a white-tailed deer and, surprisingly, a wild roaming cougar.
A wildlife biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources, Kris Johansen, visited the site with a warden and confirmed the background vegetation in the photograph matched the site. In addition, the biologist found and identified cougar tracks on a small patch of sand in the area.
However, with dry, hard soil throughout the area, it was not possible to track this animal. Cougars are famous for their ability to remain concealed from view and to move across large distances without being detected. The best chance for additional information on this cougar might be another trail camera or an observant individual who recognizes cougar sign.
Buffalo County is a trophy deer mecca and both landowners and guides use trail cameras extensively.
“There are probably more trail cameras in Buffalo County, per capita, than in any other county in the state,” said Johansen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it shows up on camera again.”
While there have been several verified sightings of cougars in Wisconsin in recent years this was only the second verified sighting in 2012. A cougar was verified near Crandon in northeast Wisconsin on March 26. In all cases where biological material was available (hair, scat, blood) the cougars were identified as young, male, North American cougars.
DNA testing of biological samples and other evidence has confirmed that at least six individual male cougars have visited Wisconsin since 2008.
This latest cougar was photographed in northern Buffalo County between Gilmanton and Mondovi sometime after dark Saturday. DNR staff is searching the area for additional prints or biological samples, but so far none have been found. Without DNA, it is not possible to say whether this is a new individual or a previously identified cougar.
There is currently no evidence that cougars are breeding in Wisconsin. Biologists believe the cougars known to have entered Wisconsin are male cougars dispersing from a breeding population in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Evidence shows that at least three of these cougars moved on and left the state. One of these, the “St. Croix cougar” that entered Wisconsin from Minnesota during the winter of 2009-2010, was killed by a vehicle in Connecticut in 2011. Biologists estimate that cougar traveled at least 1,055 miles and possibly as far as 1,600 miles.
Cougars are a protected species in Wisconsin and cannot be shot unless attacking a human or a domestic animal. Cougar attacks on humans are exceedingly rare. They are rarely seen even in western states where they exist in high numbers.
Cougars are not considered a threat to public safety. In the extremely unlikely event that a person is confronted by a cougar, experts recommend against running. Instead, face the cougar, spread your arms and open your coat or jacket if you are wearing one to appear larger. Take hold of small children so they do not run. Yell at the cougar. If it approaches, throw rocks or sticks at it.
For more information on cougars in Wisconsin, go to the DNR’s “cougar sightings” web page at http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/er/mammals/cougar/sightings.htm. Individuals who have observed cougars in Wisconsin, especially if they have obtained photos, are urged to report cougars on the “Rare Mammal Observation form” on the Cougar Web site.
More news from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.