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Is there a cougar in Lake County?
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/29/2008 11:47 PM | Updated: 3/30/2008 12:06 AM

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Could a big cat be back in Lake County?

That's what police and residents in North Chicago were wondering this weekend after a several reports Friday of a large cat, thought to be a cougar, was on the prowl in the community.

Reports in the evening in an area north of Argonne Drive, south of 18th Street and west of Lewis Avenue, prompted police to search to have a sharpshooter ready as they searched the area.

"There were several sightings (Friday). It was observed visually by an officer and at least five to eight citizens," said North Chicago police Sgt. Kurt Nash. "It's possibly a cougar or could be some large cat that escaped from its owner."

He said a fellow officer described the animal as being tan, about 3 feet tall and 7 feet long, including the tail.

"He said it was a cat. I have to take him at his word," said Nash, who said he did not see the animal. Paw prints were discovered and photographed but nothing was found. There was no sign of the animal nor reports of its presence Saturday.

The incident sparked memories of 2004, when Lake County was overtaken with cougar mania. There were many skeptics, but others were intrigued by the notion that a 140-pound cat that could sprint 35 miles per hour was on the prowl.

The health department received reports of more than 60 sightings of a large cat that year, with nearly three dozen concentrated during two frenzied weeks that April. The siting prompted the department to hire a professional tracker, who was on call with a team of dogs.

For the most part, the cougar watch has been quiet since.

"We've gotten periodic reports. Every now and then, somebody will call … and swear they've seen a cougar somewhere in Lake County," Leslie Piotrowski, spokeswoman for the health department said Saturday.

While she thought many of the 2004 sightings were of coyotes, some of the reports had a ring of truth.

An investigation of paw prints taken in Antioch and southern Wisconsin were determined by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to have been made by big dogs.

At the time, only one cougar had been positively identified in Illinois since about 1860. That was in downstate Randolph County in 2000.

In early February of this year, DNA tests from evidence collected in Milton, Wis., positively identified an animal seen leaping from a hayloft as a cougar.