MADISON – Video footage of a large cat submitted by landowners in Washington County has been verified by Department of Natural Resources biologists as a cougar.
The animal was recorded on a security camera during the early morning hours of Feb. 7 as it crossed a walkway in front of the residence. While there is no evidence of a breeding population in Wisconsin, individual cougars do move through Wisconsin periodically.
“A cougar’s ability to cover ground is very impressive,” said Scott Walter, DNR large carnivore specialist. “As an example of their range, DNR staff collected genetic samples from a cougar in Oconto County in 2010, and this cat was subsequently killed by a vehicle in Connecticut, roughly 70 miles from New York City, after travelling over 1,100 miles.”
A cougar was confirmed Jan. 8 on a trail camera photo in Fond du Lac County, while four photos taken in Lincoln and Langlade counties in mid-December 2017 were also confirmed to feature a cougar. Without genetic samples, it is impossible to determine if this is the same animal confirmed in Washington County. Dispersing cougars are known to travel significant distances and it is possible these confirmed photos recorded a single cougar.
It is likely that the cougar recently confirmed in Washington County is passing through the area, and is now out of the area.
While a handful of cougar sightings were confirmed in Wisconsin in recent years, cougar sightings as whole are uncommon. The nearest established cougar population is in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, and animals dispersing through Wisconsin are believed to originate from this population.
DNR staff rely almost exclusively on the public for reports of cougars and other rare mammals. Anyone with an unusual sighting or trail camera photo are encouraged to fill out the Large Mammal Observation Form so that our biologists can work to identify the animal.
The Large Mammal Observation Form, a current list of confirmed cougar sightings, identification tips and more can be found at dnr.wi.gov, keyword “cougar.”