Cougar shows up on trail camera
Cat may have been in Waupaca County
By Greg Seubert
Luke Kostreva has captured plenty of animals on his trail camera.
White-tailed deer, bobcats, black bears and coyotes have passed by the camera on his family’s property in Oconto County.
A cougar – also known as a mountain lion – can be added to that list as well.
A large carnivore specialist with the state Department of Natural Resources believes it may be the same cat that passed through northern Waupaca County earlier this year.
Randy Johnson, based at the DNR’s Rhinelander Service Center, said Kostreva’s report is the state’s eighth confirmed cougar sighting this year.
He believes it could be the same cougar observed in trail camera photos in Waupaca, Portage, Shawano and Menominee counties in February and March.
“It’s tough to be sure, but there’s a good chance it’s the same individual, just the fact that they’re clustered through space and time,” Johnson said.
A trail camera captured a cougar March 22 in northwestern Waupaca County. It is the first cougar documented as part of the DNR’s Snapshot Wisconsin program, a year-round partnership to monitor wildlife with a statewide network of trail cameras.
The same cougar is believed to be in another trail camera photo taken in February in Portage County.
Kostreva uses his camera to scout for deer in the Town of Mountain and was surprised when he checked it earlier this month and found a clear photo of a cougar.
“Our family has some land up by Chute Pond and (the camera) was set up on a road probably a mile from the junction of (highways) 32 and 64,” he said. “It was taken Thursday, Oct. 1, at 5:36 p.m.
“I was kind of shocked,” he said. “It wasn’t something I was expecting to see, that’s for sure. I kind of wondered if I should have this reported and let the powers that be know.”
Kostreva contacted the DNR and told them what his camera captured.
“I contacted the local game warden and he sent the pictures to a wildlife biologist,” he said. “I filled out the rare species form on the DNR website. I did whatever they told me to do.”
Johnson said anyone that thinks they captured a cougar on a trail camera should contact the DNR through the agency’s website, dnr.wi.gov.
“It’s the primary way we get these reports from the public,” he said. “If somebody gets a picture on their camera, they should go on our website and go to our cougar page. There’s a button that says, ‘Report a Cougar Sighting.’ That takes them to our large mammal observation reporting form. They can fill out all the details and we try to follow up on most of them, especially the ones that have credible evidence behind them.”
That turned out to be the case with Kostreva’s cougar. He and David Halfmann, a wildlife biologist out of the DNR’s Peshtigo office, met Oct. 9 at the site.
“We went to that exact spot and he confirmed everything around it and said that one was pretty easy,” Kostreva said.
“In this case, when there’s a picture that clearly shows a cougar, we’ll generally try to send someone out right away and work with the individual to confirm that the details line up,” Johnson said. “I commend the individual that did this. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.”
“We do work closely with Michigan and Minnesota to keep tabs on these because they get these same sporadic sightings as well,” he said. “We try to connect the dots as best we can.
“They can cover incredible amounts of ground,” he said. “We generally assume they’re from the Dakotas or even maybe Nebraska. We haven’t had a carcass or anything to get DNA on. The one time we’ve been able to do that, it traced back to the Black Hills (of South Dakota). That’s the most likely source.”
Wisconsin’s cougars are most likely juvenile males, according to Johnson.
“It seems like they keep moving,” he said. “They’re looking for mates, looking for territory. If they’re not running into anybody else, they generally keep moving. That’s where some of these clusters come from. Sometimes, we get back-to-back pictures a few nights apart. Whether this is the same individual and he made a big loop and he’s coming back through is hard to say, but there’s a good chance.”
Trail cameras are the source of most of Wisconsin’s reports, Johnson said.
“We get reports from just about every scenario that you can imagine, lots of trail camera photos, lots of visual sightings, lots of people hearing things screaming in the night, all kinds of things. We do get some that are tracks in the snow. The best way we get confirmed sightings is certainly trail cameras. We need evidence to confirm or deny any of these.”
Johnson said cougar sightings have become more common in Wisconsin in the past decade.
“I think this is the eighth confirmed cougar observation in the state,” he said. “Some of those come on back-to-back nights, so it doesn’t mean that there are eight cougars. There are just eight different occasions where one has had its picture taken. You can speculate if it’s two or three or how many individuals.”
Although cougar sightings are on the rise, there’s no evidence they are breeding in Wisconsin, Johnson said.
“We’ve seen no pictures of kittens, no tracks of kittens,” he said. “Every picture has been a solitary individual.”
Johnson said the DNR relies on the public to report possible sightings.
“I encourage the public to submit any report through our website, especially the ones with photographs or any credible evidence,” he said. “That’s what we have to use to make decisions. That’s all we can do: keep an eye on it.”
Cougars in Wisconsin
The cougar, also known as puma, mountain lion, panther, catamount, American lion and mishibijn, is the largest wildcat in North America north of Mexico.
It once roamed throughout Wisconsin and is one of three wildcats native to the state, along with the bobcat and Canada lynx.
Currently, only bobcats are known to breed in Wisconsin.
• Adult weight: 116 to 160 pounds (male) and 75 to 110 pounds (female).
• Length: 80 to 95 inches (male) and 72 to 80 inches (female).
• Tail length: 28 to 38 inches and rope-like with a black tip.
• Shoulder height: 27 to 31 inches.
• Coat overall is tawny, but can vary from reddish, yellow to gray. Belly, underside, inside legs and chin are white or creamy.
• Black-tipped tail.
• Some black on the front of the muzzle, below the nose.
• Back of the ears are solid black or gray.
• Young have dark brown spots that last until 9 months of age.
• Light spotting may still be present until the cougar is 2 years old.
• In mud or snow, 2.7 to 4 inches long and 2.8 to 4.5 inches wide.
• Round and often wider than they are long.
• No claws (although some canid tracks may not show claws or nails).
• Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources