On Sunday, October 16, a mountain was struck and killed by a vehicle on I-88 in Dekalb County, Illinois, 60 miles west of Chicago. According to an Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) press release, state police transferred the cougar’s carcass to an IDNR wildlife biologist who delivered it to the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana for a full necropsy and DNA analysis. The agency expects the analysis to pinpoint the animal’s place of origin and help trace its movement across the country.
“We believe it was an individual [lion] that was reported to us out of Whiteside County that was captured on a trail camera on private property,” IDNR biologist Nate Grinder told ABC7 Chicago. That trail camera photo marked the first confirmed mountain lion sighting in Illinois since 2014.
Once native to the entire Midwest, mountain lions were eliminated from Illinois by the 1870s. The IDNR has only verified eight sightings over the past two decades, including a 150-pounder that police shot and killed as it wandered into Chicago’s North Side in 2008. DNA testing traced that animal to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
“At this point, we are just getting those young males dispersing across the landscape in search of others, and they aren’t finding any because they are not here. It’s kind of a perilous journey for them,” Grinder said. He suspects that the cougar killed last week came from a population out West.
IDNR officials announced that it is “monitoring another mountain lion reported in western Illinois in early October.” The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) collared that animal with a GPS device a year ago as part of an ongoing research project on the state’s mountain lion population. But, according to the NGPC, that cougar recently made an eastward journey across Iowa and into Illinois. The IDNR is coordinating with Nebraska wildlife officials to track the collared lion.
In the event of a mountain lion encounter, the IDNR advises people to stand tall, look large, and slowly back away, while keeping your eye on the animal. If the animal does not immediately flee, wave your arms, throw stones at it, and yell. In Illinois, it is unlawful to hunt, kill, or harass mountain lions unless they pose an imminent threat to a person or property.
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