COLGATE — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources confirmed a cougar — generally found in western states — was in the Colgate area last week. Biologists say the cougar likely traveled all the way from South Dakota, the home of the closest known cougar population, and is likely already out of the area.
It was a brief visit by the big cat early on Feb. 7 — but one that’s likely going to have lasting impact in the tiny town of Colgate.
“Very surprising. Yeah we’re going to go get the pepper spray,” Mary Lederer and Chris Warden, neighbors said.
Lederer and Warden said they were shocked to learn a cougar had not only been in that part of the state, but in their 300-person town.
“We saw it on the news this morning. Didn’t know where it was. Didn’t think it would be here though,” they said.
While cougar sightings are rare in Wisconsin, they’re not unheard of. The DNR said a cougar was confirmed in early Jan. 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. DNR officials noted 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.
A cougar was spotted on a trail camera in early Jan. in the Town of Rosendale on the west side of Fond du Lac County. According to the DNR, there have been several confirmed mountain lion sightings in the last month or two. One was near Merrill and the other was near Antigo.
“We don’t know for sure, but based on the movement, based on cougar behavior, it’s probably the same animal,” said Dianne Robinson, DNR wildlife biologist.
The DNR says the large cat, which can weigh up to 120 pounds, was probably passing through the area, rather than moving in.
“It’s generally a young male dispersing out of the South Dakota population looking to set up a territory. A territory needs to have food and a mate. As far as we know, there are no female cougars that have moved into Wisconsin,” Robinson said.
“It’d be kind of cool to see one. I don’t know if I’d want to go outside like I said, but it’d be neat to see,” said Dennis Beier, who lives in Hubertus.
The DNR said there is no evidence of a cougar breeding population in Wisconsin, but officials do rely almost exclusively on reports of rare animals from the public.
Anyone with information on a sighting is urged to fill out the Large Mammal Observation Form.
The DNR also has a map of recent cougar sightings in the state.
It is highly unlikely you will ever encounter one, but if you do, the DNR says do not make any sudden movements.