Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

September 25, 2008

Big cats in Illinois? It’s possible

The latest “hoax” about the existence of cougars in central Illinois was a product of informational migration on the Internet, but speculation about the possibility of the large cats roaming through the area has dampened.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is quick to point out cougars aren’t native to Illinois, but there is a possibility domesticated animals could be loose in some areas.

It is illegal for someone to own a cougar in Illinois. Only zoos can obtain a license through the federal government to own that type of cat here, but that doesn’t rule out a cougar could be transported across state lines with an official permit.

“The cougar is on the list of dangerous animals,” said IDNR conservation officer Cpt. Greg Hunter. “They are legal to own in Iowa. I was personally called to a residence in Moline. We captured a cougar in the basement of a home after it had escaped. The cougar was taken unlawfully from Iowa to Illinois.”

While Hunter has personally experienced IDNR’s theory for how a random cougar could be found dead in Illinois, some wildlife biologists claim released captive cougars may not be the only way the animals come to roam state lands.

Clayton Nielsen, a wildlife ecologist with Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory and director of scientific research for the Cougar Network, claims a migration of cougars is heading east.

“Like most young outdoorsmen, he seems to be seeking the simple things in life: a quiet, out-of-the-way place to call home, great deer hunting grounds and a soul mate with whom to start a family. No wonder he’s looking in the agricultural Midwest, what with its remaining forests and abundant venison. But he’s not your average kind of guy — he’s a cougar,” writes Nielson in a recent article about the possible migration.

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