A cougar was reportedly treed by bobcat hunters’ hounds south of the Willow Flowage in late December.
Department of Natural Resources biologist Jeremy Holtz said there were at least two other confirmed cougar tracks from around that general area at that same general time.
DNR conservation warden Ron Nerva saw the pictures, which were sent to him by a friend that is a hound hunter. He believes the hunters treed a cougar, but did not see the big cat first hand, and said he didn’t personally verify the sighting.
DNR biologist Adrian Wydeven confirmed the presence of a cougar near the Chippewa Flowage more recently.
On Jan. 19, a hunter, along with other houndsmen, had treed the cat about 15 to 20 feet up. At that time they were able to confirm the cougar was male.
On Jan. 22, the same hunter followed the cougar tracks to Big Timber Island on the Chippewa Flowage, about two miles to the west.
On Jan. 23, with the hunter’s assistance, Wydeven tracked the cat through an area of large white pine, mature aspen and hardwoods interspersed with wetlands, sedge meadow and conifer bog. Wydeven tracked the cat for nearly a mile. The cougar did not appear to try to leave the area, and meandered about as if it was again hunting shortly after leaving the tree.
Wydeven believed the picture of the late December cougar was taken in eastern Price County on U.S. Forest Service land. He said this cougar could be the same cat he later tracked, but without some obvious mark or DNA from both, it can’t be ascertained.
He said if there are no more reports from the Price/Oneida area, and there are continued reports further to the northwest, he would lean toward it being the same animal.
He noted that cougars were captured on trail cameras near Cable in southern Bayfield County Nov. 1 and Nov. 26, 2012.
Strict guidelines for verification
The DNR has collected information on cougar observations statewide since 1991, but only since 2008 have they confirmed any observations. The number of confirmed observations has gone up in recent years.
In order to verify a cougar sighting, the DNR needs physical evidence that can be inspected, photographed, or genetically tested. That’s according to DNR wildlife biologist Jane Wiedenhoeft, speaking in an online chat on cougars in December.
In the case of photos, the DNR does a field check to verify the location. For tracks, they try to confirm a visit to the site, but have verified from photos with a ruler pictured. Hair, scat, blood, or urine can be genetically tested if appropriately collected.
According to the DNR, wild cougars probably disappeared from the state by about 1910. Though reports of cougars began to surface in the 1940s, the DNR believes these were probably escaped captive cougars or misidentifications.
DNA testing of biological samples and other evidence has confirmed that at least six individual male cougars have visited Wisconsin since 2008. Biologists believe these are male cougars dispersing from a breeding population in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The DNR says there is currently no evidence that cougars are breeding here, and that only male cats have been verified in Wisconsin to this point.
The cougar is the largest North American wildcat north of Mexico. The jaguars of Mexico, Central America and South America are larger.
• Adult weight: 116-160 pounds (male) and 75-110 pounds (female).
• Length: 80-95 inches (male) and 72-80 inches (female).
• Tail length: 28-38 inches and ropelike with a black tip.
• Shoulder height: 27-31 inches.
• In mud or snow, tracks are 2.7-4 inches in length and 2.8-4.5 inches wide.
A cougar’s tracks are round and often wider than they are long. No claws are visible in the track (which is also sometimes true of canid tracks).
The coat of a cougar overall is tawny, but can vary from reddish to yellow to gray. The belly, underside, inside legs and chin are white or cream-colored.
The tail is black-tipped, and there is some black on the front of the muzzle, below the nose. The back of the ears are solid black or gray.
No black phases have been documented in North America.
Young cougars have dark brown spots that last until nine months of age and light spotting may still be present until the cougar is two years old.
The cougar is also known as puma, mountain lion, panther, catamount, American lion and mishibijn (Ojibwa).
Reference: Wisconsin DNR.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com