Possible cougar paw print found in county - Republic-Times | News

Possible cougar paw print found in county

By on October 31, 2012 at 10:24 am

This paw print found on Walter Rau’s farm northeast of Waterloo measures approximately 3.75 inches wide. Rau said the print evidenced no claws. Cats do not expose their claws when walking. (Alan Dooley photo)

For the Republic-Times

There have been multiple reports of bobcats in Monroe County over recent years. But Walter Rau, who has lived northeast of Waterloo at the end of Gilmore Lake Road since 1944, is sure there are cougars roaming here.

He has seen them in past years in his fields. Rau recently found signs one is still there, in the form of large paw prints near Prairie du Long Creek as it courses through his property.

Rau took a Republic-Times photojournalist to the scene on Friday to show him the paw prints, softened by rain since he first saw them.

“My son measured one at three and three-fourths inches wide,” he said. “We also noted that, unlike dog prints, these showed absolutely no claws at the end of each toe.”

Even though the print was indeed softened by rain the night before, it still showed the characteristic four toes and wide heel pad.

Cougars once roamed most of North and South America.  Other names for these large animals include pumas and mountain lions. They were so widespread, in fact, that there are as many as 40 names for these predators in English alone.

Over decades of human habitation, they have been exterminated or lost habitat until there was only a colony in Florida and a few other small pockets.  But today, they are making strong comebacks in California, the Dakotas and elsewhere. In fact, one was shot by police on the north side of Chicago in April 2008.

Walter Rau points to a paw print thought to be from a cougar on his farm northeast of Waterloo last week. (Alan Dooley photo)

Locally, a young male cougar was identified when found dead along railroad tracks near Chester in Randolph County in July 2002.

Experts indicate that some of the cougars that have been sighted and killed may have been escapees from private owners or even traveling shows.  Many are reluctant to acknowledge that wild ones may roam in any specific area.

But John Tippitt, a district wildlife biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said it was possible that a cougar was in the area.

“I’ve heard several reports,” Tippitt said. “But I have not been able to confirm anything.  We believe young male cougars have been dispersing from the Dakotas in past years, and have been noted in nearby Iowa and Missouri.”

Tippitt reviewed a photo of the paw print on Rau’s property and said, unfortunately, he was unable to  draw any conclusion from it due to its deteriorated condition. He noted basic differences between large canine and cougar prints.

“In addition to no evidence of claws in a cat print, there are three lobes on the heel pad as opposed to two on a dog,” he said.
But there’s absolutely no doubt in Rau’s mind as to the maker of the prints found on his property.

“I stood there on that hill years ago, near those electric lines,” he said, pointing toward an as-yet unharvested bean field. “I watched one run up that hill.”

Often, cougar reports turn out to be mistaken observations of large cats, or bobcats. But cougars have distinctive characteristics. First, they are large animals, ranging up to 200 pounds, or the size of an adult human being. They also sport long tails.

The large cats are predators, normally seeking to secure prey from ambush, either by speeding out to grab an unsuspecting animal or pouncing from above.  Deer are favorite meals.

They are known to attack humans in some cases, with various reports of 10 to 20 fatalities nationwide since 1990, occurring at an increasing rate in recent years.

Tippitt confirmed that while cougars avoid humans if they can, they can be dangerous to people, “especially those that may have escaped from private collectors, which may not have much fear of humans.”

Clifftop is hosting a public seminar to help the community better understand the status of such carnivores as bobcats, foxes and even cougars in this area.

Dr. Clay Nielsen, Professor of Forest Wildlife at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory and Director of Science for the nonprofit Cougar Network, will give a presentation Saturday, Nov. 10, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Monroe County Annex, 901 Illinois Avenue, Waterloo.

Nielsen will address the potential of cougars living in the area. The seminar is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is required by Nov. 8 by calling 458-4674 or emailing clifftop@htc.net.

Teryn Schaefer

Teryn was born and raised in Waterloo, growing up watching local sports and Mon-Clair baseball. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri Journalism School and loves cheering on her Tigers any chance she gets.