Cougar shot, killed in Chicago

Not known if cat was in suburbs

  • A cougar was shot and killed by Chicago police near the 3400 block of Hoyne Avenue around 6 p.m. Monday. Authorities were checking the body for tags or markings to try to determine if it was owned by anyone.

    A cougar was shot and killed by Chicago police near the 3400 block of Hoyne Avenue around 6 p.m. Monday. Authorities were checking the body for tags or markings to try to determine if it was owned by anyone. courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

Published: 4/15/2008 12:12 AM

A large cat believed to be a cougar was shot and killed by police Monday in an alley on Chicago's North Side.

Chicago police said an officer shot and killed a 150-pound cougar. Several residents reported seeing the cat, which was more than 5 feet long, earlier Monday.

"He just zoomed across the street, hurdled a 6-foot fence like nothing," resident Frank Hirschmann told ABC 7 Chicago.

Authorities said the animal's body will be checked for any markings, microchips or tags that would show if it is owned by anyone.

"He leaped the fence into the alley where two officers shot and killed the cougar in the back of the garage here," said Chicago police Cmdr. John Kenny.

"Initially, the animal charged at officers, shots were fired at the animal (and) the animal ran to a yard," Kenny said.

"The animal is very excited, it's disturbed, it's scared. It could have attacked a person if it was cornered," Kenny said.

"How long has this thing been in the neighborhood? I mean, this is Roscoe Village. … This is the city of Chicago," Roscoe Village resident Ted Wallace said.

Residents of the North Side village seemed just as concerned about gunshots in their neighborhood as much as they were about the cougar.

"I would say there were probably three sets of shots, six shots in each set," resident Shannon Johnston told ABC 7 Chicago.

Where it came from and whether it is the same animal seen recently in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois was not immediately known.

"This doesn't look like it's a very thin cat. It looks like it's got good flesh on it," Mark Rosenthal, of Chicago Animal Care and Control, the group that is performing an necropsy on the animal, told ABC 7 Chicago.

"It was eating well on some level, wherever it was," Rosenthal said.

"They should be able to tell if this is a wild cougar based on the DNA tests and the necropsy," according to Mark Dowling, co-founder of the Cougar Network, a nonprofit research organization.

Dowling said he was not surprised a cougar could live in this area. He thought there may be two possibilities: that it was a captive animal on the loose or a potential "disperser" from a western population.

He said he did not think there was a wild breeding population in the area, as the nearest populations are in the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota.

In any case, there will be several wildlife experts interested in the findings.

Reports of a large cat circulated in two Lake County communities over the past few weeks, and in both cases, police officers were among the eyewitnesses.

A cast of a paw print gathered in North Chicago from several sightings reported March 28, later was identified by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as being canine in nature.

In that instance, a police officer reported that a large cat came and rubbed up against his squad car as he was writing a report in the police station parking lot. The officer said it was within a few feet and that he had it in his gunsight, but it was scared off by radio chatter and he didn't fire.

On April 3, a resident of Round Lake Park about 14 miles to the west, reported seeing a large cat in his back yard. A responding police officer saw it as well. An evidence team was called but could not obtain any paw prints.

Although the number of reports were few, especially compared to the hundreds received in 2004, their nature prompted the Lake County Health Department on April 4 to ask residents -- if they were at a safe distance -- to take pictures or video if they spotted the animal.

The department also said the animal that had been sighted "appears to be afraid of humans." No pictures or video have been submitted.

The cougar watch was dormant for about a week until last Saturday, when Wilmette police said they received reports from four different residents, who said they saw an animal each believed to be a cougar near the CTA's Fourth and Linden Station. The animal was not located. Wilmette is about 35 miles from Round Lake Park.

Cougars can range hundreds of miles but typically roam areas of 125 to 175 square miles, the Lake County Health Department reported, meaning it could be nearly anywhere in the area.

Authorities in Wisconsin also have been interested in the Lake County sightings, as genetic test results positively identified an animal seen in January as being a male cougar of North American origin.

While those genetics did not eliminate the possibility the cat had been captive, "it does make it more likely that the cougar is completely wild," according to Adrian Wydeven, mammal ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

That was the first confirmed cougar sighting in Wisconsin in 100 years.

A track found several weeks later in Elkhorn, Wis., also was identified as being that of a cougar and was thought to be the same animal.

In Illinois, the existence of cougars have been confirmed only twice since the 1860s -- one in 2000 in Chester and one in 2004 in Mercer County.

There are no state rules or regulations protecting cougars in Illinois because they were not considered native to Illinois when the state wildlife code was written, according to Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud.