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Relax, everyone: Wheaton paw prints weren't made by cougar
By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/16/2009 3:40 PM | Updated: 9/16/2009 5:55 PM

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Paw prints found this week in Wheaton weren't made by a cougar, according to an expert who examined molds of the prints Wednesday afternoon.

"They weren't cougar prints," said Mike Brown, lead keeper of large carnivores at Brookfield Zoo. "They were way too small. With a cat that size they would have been a lot larger."

Still, it's unclear exactly what kind of animal made the prints, which were found Tuesday in a creek bed in the area of Bridle Lane and Cole Avenue.

Brown said the prints he and several other experts looked at initially appeared to be "very canine-like." But the molds were missing nail marks, which made the examination inconclusive.

"They may have not made it to the plaster cast," he said. "The fact that we didn't see any nail marks would lead one to think it might be more of a feline. But there is no way we can say conclusively one way or the other what it was."

On Tuesday, an eyewitness reported seeing a large black cat police said might have been a cougar.

It was the city's second possible cougar sighting in as many weeks.

On Friday, a woman told police she may have seen a cougar about dusk Sept. 4 while she was running with her dog in Northside Park. She described the dark-colored cat as being larger than her dog, which weighs 60 pounds.

During that incident, the cat fled into a wooded area when approached by the woman's dog.

Ed Roth, who lives about a quarter-mile away from Northside Park, says he's convinced he heard a cougar late Tuesday night. Roth said he was close to the kitchen window about 11 p.m. when he heard the animal snarl and run off.

"I am familiar with the sounds cougars make because I used to live near Cheyenne, Wyoming," Roth said. "So if somebody calls and says they saw one, believe them."

DuPage County Forest Preserve officials say they've received more reports of sightings since April 2008, when Chicago police shot and killed a 124-pound cougar on the city's north side.

Ecologist Dan Thompson said there have been about two dozen reported sightings in the past year, including one last week outside the district's headquarters along Naperville Road.

"I know the whole Wheaton area is kind of a hotbed right now, but we're getting reports throughout the county," Thompson said.

Still, Thompson said there is no solid evidence any cougars are roaming the county.

"To verify this is one of those difficult things," he said. "Someone can report it and we can go right out there. But that animal could be long gone or keeping an extremely low profile. It's hard to detect."

Wheaton Deputy Chief Tom Meloni said the department will continue to investigate the city's sightings. He's advising people to be cautious - no matter what the animal turns out to be.

"If they observe a wild animal, they should leave it alone," he said. "Do not startle it, go the other way and then call 911."