Wisconsin wildlife officials pursue mountain lion

Treed cougar
If this is wild mountain lion, and not an escaped captive one, it would be just the second documented in Wisconsin since the early 1900s.
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR

Wisconsin wildlife officials continued Thursday to pursue a mountain lion roaming near Spooner in an effort to fit it with a radio collar.

It's only the second documented wild mountain lion in the state since the early 1900s. One spotted in January 2008 near Milton was later killed in a Chicago suburb.

A group of hunters with hounds contacted the Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday after spotting the latest mountain lion in northwestern Wisconsin, wildlife biologist Ken Jonas said.

DNR officials attempted to capture the adult male twice in two days after tracking it up trees. But each time, the animal jumped out of the tree and ran off.

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"We want to be very safe with the animal when it's in an elevated position," Jonas said. "We're using an immobilization agent that's more gradual. We're trying to get it groggy, so to speak, and get set up with a net below for it."

Jonas said his team got one dose of the immobilizing agent in the mountain lion Thursday, but the animal fled within 30 seconds and the team couldn't load the dart gun in time to provide a second dose.

"We tracked it on foot, hoping we could get close enough," he said. "It kept going very strong over a period of time and after well over a mile we knew we weren't going to catch up to the animal."

Officials decided not to release tracking dogs because the mountain lion might be more easily hurt in his groggy state.

"We definitely do not want to cause harm to that animal," Jonas said.

Because of that, Jonas said they'll back off attempts to collar, tag and take blood and hair samples of the animal for the time being but actively investigate its movements.

Wildlife officials are intrigued by mountain lions - also known as cougars, pumas or catamounts - and want to use a radio collar to find out if it has a pattern to its travel.

"I'm fairly certain it's not going to stay in the Spooner-Washburn (County)-Burnett County area for very long," Jonas said.

Mountain lions can reach speeds of 30 mph or more and prey on deer-sized and smaller animals. About 250 live in the Black Hills of South Dakota, according to wildlife officials there, but the animals have been spotted in several Midwestern states.

The Wisconsin DNR considers mountain lions protected animals and is warning residents it's illegal to hurt, capture or kill it.

"The best thing we can have them do is take photographs," Jonas said. "If they have tracks, cover them up and we can verify whether it's a cougar or some other animal. Through those types of means, we can keep a better handle on where this critter is going."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)