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Chicago Sun Times

Cougars on the prowl here? ‘We’ll definitely have more’

Experts will meet at Brookfield Zoo to discuss impact on Chicago area


Ever since a wild, wandering cougar turned up two years ago in Chicago, biologist Chris Anchor has been keeping an eye out for signs of other big cats around here.

A Chicago Police officer shot and killed a cougar in an alley behind the 3400 block of North Hamilton Avenue in April 2008.

So far: none. But Anchor and other wildlife experts say it’s likely only a matter of time before another cougar turns up.

“We’ll definitely have more cats in Illinois, though I can’t predict where,” says Anchor, a wildlife biologist with the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

Other experts agree: Growing cougar populations in places like South Dakota means the animals eventually will return to northern Illinois, where they haven’t been seen in ages, searching for mates and new territory.

“Every couple of years, we ought to see a trail cam [picture] or paw prints” somewhere in the area, said Bruce Patterson, curator of mammals at the Field Museum.

It was April 2008 when police in Chicago shot and killed a 124-pound male cougar on the Northwest Side. The 2-year-old animal was the first cougar found in Cook County since at least 1855, wildlife experts say. But it was the third cougar to turn up in Illinois in just the past decade, according to Anchor.

Biologists and wildlife experts will gather next Monday at Brookfield Zoo to try to figure out how cougars might affect the Chicago area and the rest of northern Illinois.

The cougar that was killed here in 2008 was genetically similar to big cats living in South Dakota. An estimated 250 cougars roam the Black Hills region of that state.

Younger animals looking for their own territory in turn have traveled across the Midwest, turning up in Minnesota and even southern Canada. One radio-collared cat was killed by a train in Oklahoma — nearly 700 miles from its home in the Black Hills, says Jon Jenks, a professor of wildlife sciences at South Dakota State University.

Once the big cats get here, it might be awhile before that’s confirmed.

“They really are amazingly good at stealth movements, at moving unseen and not being detected,” says Patterson, the Field Museum expert.

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