- Contact information
- For information on cougars, contact:
- Dave MacFarland
Cougars in Wisconsin
The cougar (Puma concolor), also known as puma, mountain lion, panther, catamount, American lion and mishibijn (Ojibwa),is the largest wildcat in North America north of Mexico. It once roamed throughout Wisconsin, one of three wild cats native to the state, along with the bobcat and Canada lynx. Currently, only bobcats are known to breed in Wisconsin.
Report your sightings
Report a cougar observation
Please use the
large mammal observation form.
The DNR is interested in receiving reports on cougar observations in the state. Please use the large mammal observation form and include details of the exact location, time, date and description of the animal. Pictures of the animals and their tracks are also greatly appreciated. Pictures of suspected tracks should have a ruler or other measuring tool in the photo. Biological samples that can be tested for genetics may also be very useful. These could include scats, hair samples, other body parts, or remains of prey species. Samples should be gathered in airproof containers and people should avoid any skin contact of biological samples. The DNR should be contacted before any samples are shipped.
The cougar is the largest wildcat in North America north of Mexico. In the Americas, only the jaguar of South America, Central America and Mexico are larger.
- Adult weight: 116-160 pounds (male) and 75-110 pounds (female)
- Length: 80-95 inches (male) and 72-80 inches (female)
- Tail length: 28-38 inches and ropelike with a black tip
- Shoulder height: 27-31 inches
- Coat overall is tawny but can vary from reddish, yellow to gray
- Belly, underside, inside legs and chin are white or creamy
- Black-tipped tail
- Some black on the front of the muzzle, below the nose
- Back of the ears are solid black or gray
- No black phases have been documented in North America, only South America
- Young have dark brown spots that last until nine months of age
- Light spotting may still be present until the cougar is two years old
- In mud or snow, 2.7-4.0 inches in length and 2.8-4.5 inches width
- Round and often wider than they are long
- No claws (although some canid tracks may not show claws or nails)
Wild cougars probably disappeared from the state by about 1910, but reports again began to surface in the 1940s. These were probably escaped captive cougars or misidentifications. Since 1991, the DNR has conducted a standardized system of collecting reports of cougars and other rare mammals. While there have been several verified sightings of cougars in Wisconsin in recent years, there is currently no evidence that they are breeding here. DNA testing of biological samples and other evidence has confirmed that at least six individual male cougars have visited Wisconsin since 2008. Biologists believe these are male cougars dispersing from a breeding population in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
DNR confirms cougar in Florence County
A cougar that was captured on a private landowner's trail cam on June 3 was recently confirmed by DNR biologists. Other unconfirmed cougar sightings were also reported locally from the same area.
Biologist tracks cougar in Sawyer County
After hearing of a cougar possibly treed off County Highway B in Sawyer County, DNR biologist Adrian Wydeven confirmed the presence of a cougar near the Chippewa Flowage. On January 19, a local hunter, along with other houndsmen, had treed the cat in some large, dead white pines where it sat about 15-20 feet up the trees. They were able to confirm the cougar was male. Then, on January 22, the hunter followed the cougar tracks all the way to Big Timber Island on the Chippewa Flowage, about 2 miles to the west. On January 23 and with the hunter's assistance, Wydeven tracked the cat as it bounded, then walked through an area of large white pine, mature aspen and hardwoods interspersed with wetlands, sedge meadow and conifer bog. Wydeven tracked the cat for nearly a mile until the tracks disappeared in an area of dense windthrows and much deer activity. The cougar did not appear to try to leave the area, and meandered about as if it was again hunting shortly after leaving the tree.
Collared cougar spotted on two trail cams
Photos of a collared cougar were recently captured on two separate trail cameras - one in northwestern Waushara County and another in Marathon County, just east of Stratford. The collared cougar was first photographed on November 17 in Waushara County and then later, on November 29, in Marathon County - apparently moving in a northwesterly direction assuming it is the same cat. In October, Michigan biologists confirmed that a collared cougar was caught on trail cam near Menominee Michigan, but it is unknown if this is the same cat. Private landowners with trail cameras are once again proving invaluable in helping biologists track and verify these animals as they wander through the state. Submissions of cougar sightings can be made via the online report form above.
Cougar tracks verified in Ashland County
On November 29, Ron Parisien of GLIFWC observed fresh cougar tracks along FR 183 on the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest in Ashland County. The tracks were later confirmed by biologists as cougar. The cougar was traveling east to west through aspen, swamp conifer/hardwood mix, following tracks of a deer and followed the deer across FR 183. The location of the tracks is 5.3 miles northeast of a location where a cougar had been photographed by a hunter's trail cam. This photo has not yet been verified but is likely legitimate.
Cougar seen again on trail camera in Iowa County
DNR staff have confirmed that a cougar was seen on a private landowner's trail camera on or near August 31 between Dodgeville and Mineral Point in Iowa County. No tracks were found during a site investigation. However, upon viewing the original photo, the local warden noticed distinct mottling in the fur coat making this a probable young male cat of 1-2 years of age. It is likely that this is the same cat that traveled south from Buffalo County and was spotted in Trempealeau and Monroe counties.
Cougar sighting confirmed in Monroe County
A DNR biologist recently confirmed a cougar sighting in Monroe County on August 5 near Norwalk. The local landowner captured a photograph of the cat, notified officials, and then worked with staff to confirm the sighting. This is likely the same cat seen in Buffalo County in July. Private landowners with trail cameras are proving to be an invaluable resource in helping monitor the long-range movements of these animals.
Cougar sighting verified in Jackson County, probable in Monroe
Updated 10/2: On July 24, a cougar was captured on a trail camera - apparently following a deer trail as it wandered across private lands near Millston in Jackson County. Later, on July 31, the same cat may have been spotted in Monroe County west of Tomah. A local DNR biologist confirmed the Jackson County cougar but was not able to determine the exact location nor validity of the Monroe County cat. However, it is highly likely that the cougar previously detected in Buffalo and Trempealeau counties continues to move east and southward.
Cougar seen on trail cam video, Trempealeau County
On July 20, a cougar was seen on video footage from a trail camera near Blair, Wisconsin. If this is the same animal seen recently in Buffalo County, it would have traveled east/southeast 27 miles or five to six miles per day, and probably is in Jackson County by now. Because cougars are shy and elusive, people generally don't see them. However, with urban sprawl and a shrinking habitat comes the potential for more encounters between people and cougars. To learn more about cougar behavior and what to do if you encounter one, see the living with cougars tab for more information.
Cougar caught on trail camera, Buffalo County
Sometime over the weekend of July 14-15, a cougar was photographed walking along a soybean field near Gilmanton. A new landowner had set-up a borrowed trail camera, hoping to capture some wildlife scenes on his newly purchased property. Upon checking the camera a few days later, he was surprised to find photos of a cougar wandering across his property. A local DNR biologist and warden visited the property and have documented a number of cougar prints in the field that corresponded to the location of the cougar in the photo. Read the entire DNR news story.
Cougar confirmed in Forest County
On March 26, landowners spotted a cougar walking across their property about 5 miles south of Crandon. The landowner captured the cat on film and on March 27, a DNR biologist confirmed that tracks made around the site were of a small cougar. The cat was following a deer trail that was going through the yard leading to a place where deer were being fed.
Cougar seen again - this time in Price County
On November 12th, a privately owned trail camera captured a cougar on film with the sighting confirmed by biologists on November 23rd. The cat is presumed to be the same seen recently travelling through Juneau, Jackson and Rusk counties.
Cougar seen on trail cam in Rusk County
On November 10, DNR biologists verified a trail cam photograph of a cougar in Rusk County, south of the Flambeau River State Forest. Based on the photo, the cat appears to be a male. The trail cam is located on private lands used for hunting and the cat may have been attracted to an old gut pile. Although biologists searched for other cat sign, including hair, scat, and tracks, nothing definitive was found. A previously tracked cougar was last detected on a trail cam on 10/20/11 in eastern Jackson County (see story below and map, at right). The 11/8/11 location in Rusk County would be 80 miles north and 21 days later, or 3.8 miles traveled per day. At the rates and directions it has been moving it probably is into the Flambeau State Forest or Price County Forest land by now. Read more in the DNR News.
Another trail camera confirms a cougar in Wisconsin
On October 20th, a cougar was seen on a trail camera in Jackson County near Pray, Wisconsin. The cat is apparently the same individual captured on a trail cam in Juneau County on October 16th. Both photographs show the cat appears to have a hint of spots, which suggests it is probably ~ 1 1/2 years old. The location is 42 miles NNW from the location in Juneau County, probably passing through the Necedah NWR, Meadow Valley WA and Jackson County Forest land. It passed through areas of pine/aspen/ oak forest and large wetland complexes with good wolf and deer numbers. It looks like this cougar is traveling at a fairly fast rate, and unless it recently made a kill, it could easily be in northern Wisconsin by now.
Trail camera captures cougar in Juneau County
DNR biologists have confirmed the presence of another cougar within the state. The trail cam photograph, taken at 9:21 p.m., clearly shows a young adult cougar moving against a nighttime background of native grasses. The camera was located on private lands a bit more than two miles north of Mauston. DNR biologists visited the site, interviewed the landowner, checked other photos in sequence on the camera and checked the background in the photograph against the actual location. Based on times, location and other evidence, it is likely that a minimum of six different cougars have visited Wisconsin since January, 2008, when a cougar observation near Milton was confirmed by tracks and DNA tests of a blood sample. Read the full DNR news story.
Trail cams catch cougar in northern Wisconsin and Michigan
Trail cameras on private lands in both Michigan and Wisconsin have confirmed the presence of another wandering cougar. In July and August, a radio-collared cat was seen on trail cams in northern Wisconsin. Another Michigan trail cam captured the cougar in September. The cat was walking directly toward the camera and showed it had both a radio collar and ear tag. Michigan DNR officials confirmed its presence later in the week. At present, it is unknown where the cougar is from, but the Michigan DNR is contacting other states with known cougar populations. Only western states currently have cougars collared for research projects, so it is possible that the animal traveled a great distance to reach the Upper Peninsula. Read more from Michigan DNR.
Wisconsin's St. Croix cougar killed in Connecticut
Long-distance travel sets record
A cougar that was struck by a car in Connecticut last month has been confirmed through DNA tests to be the same cougar that travelled through Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2009-2010. Dubbed by biologists as the "St.Croix cougar", the 140-pound cat was hit by a small SUV on a highway in Milford, Connecticut, just 70 miles from New York City (read the news story.) The cat died from its injuries, but the driver was unhurt. The St. Croix cougar was first detected by the Champlin, Minnesota police department on December 5, 2009, about 15 miles northwest of downtown Minneapolis. It was last detected by the Wisconsin DNR near Cable, Wisconsin on February 27, 2010. On May 20, 2010 a cougar was captured on a trail camera in northeast Wisconsin, near Lena in Oconto County. Six days later, a cougar was also captured on a trail camera in Menominee County, Michigan 25 miles to the northeast. Although genetic samples were not collected at these last 2 observations, based on direction and timing of movements, these could have represented the St. Croix Cougar. The straight line movement of the St. Croix Cougar from its initial detection in Champlin, Minnesota, to Milford, Connecticut is 1,055 miles, but if it had traveled through the UP of Michigan and through southern Ontario around the Great Lakes, the shortest distance would have been about 1,150 miles. And since the St. Croix cougar was already nearly 500 miles from the Black Hills of South Dakota, his actual straight-line move may well have been in excess of 1,600 miles. This fascinating movement pattern of a large carnivore likely sets the record for straightline distance. The previous straightline movement record was less than 700 miles. Read the DNR news story.
The following stories and accompanying photos - some real, some doctored - are internet hoaxes that are generally sent via email and occur with some frequency.
Wow! Big kitty: trail cam of a cougar near Spring Green, Wisconsin
The fake story: Numerous emails circulated regarding a trail cam photograph of a cougar near Spring Green in Sauk County, Wisconsin.
The real story: This photo of an adult cougar was being circulated via email with claims it was taken near Spring Green. However, biologists were able to track down the author of the orginal email who admitted he had pulled the photograph off the internet. The 2008 photograph is actually of a cougar from Nebraska. Read the entire 2008 story from Nebraska.
Trail cam of a cougar in Iowa County
The fake story: Numerous emails and calls to DNR staff related the story of a cougar caught on a trail cam near the Barneveld/Hollandale area of Iowa County. When the photo was submitted to a wildlife biologist, it was recognized as a photo that originated in Arkansas but was also used in Michigan as another cougar hoax.
The real story: This photo of an adult cougar was submitted to the Michigan DNR when a citizen claimed to have seen and photographed it on a dark road near Seney, Michigan. After researching the issue, DNR personnel discovered the cougar matched a photo published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in August 2003. That image was taken at the Winona Wildlife Management Area west of Little Rock by a camera triggered by a heat sensor. Read the Michigan story.
Honey, will you start the car for me?
The Fake Story: These photos have been circulating via email for quite some time often with the subject line of "Honey, will you start the car..." Numerous locational claims have been made with one claiming the photos being taken in Michigan, off G-12 Road in the Upper Peninsula while another states they are from Idaho. However, in one photograph, a Colorado license plate is clearly visible on the truck.
The Real Story: While the real story remains a mystery, these cats in the photos are not from the Midwest. It is highly probable they are from Colorado as evidenced by the license plate on the white truck.
A cougar in southern Wisconsin?
The fake story: This photo with accompanying email was brought in to a DNR Service Center and was supposedly taken on a trail cam near Brodhead and the Avon Bottoms Wildlife Area in southern Wisconsin. The picture of a cougar with a white-tailed deer is in front of a deer feeding device and on bare ground, both right away indicating it was less likely to be in a wild situation in Wisconsin.
The real story: This same story and photograph has circulated in several states, including Missouri and North Carolina, but was apparently taken at a Texas game farm. This hoax prompted North Carolina's Wildlife Resources Commission to issue a news release regarding the hoax. This email hoax is now making the rounds in Wisconsin but with the place names changed to different states.
Pelican Lake cougar
The fake story: An email stated, "Here is a photo of a cougar killed in Pelican Lake, WI, about 25 miles North of Antigo. The guy who shot it (also in the photo) is 6' tall and weighs about 220 lbs. He was in a deer stand near Consolidated Rd. and County Hwy. B. when saw it pass him upwind and then downwind. When the cat passed him again he knew that it was hunting him, so he shot the cat, which then ran about 100 yards away where it died."
The real story: According to a news release from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), this picture appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of Fair Chase magazine - a Boone and Crockett Club publication dedicated to hunting and conservation of North American big game - and actually depicts a mountain lion taken near Seattle, Washington.
Buffalo County Cougars
The fake story: The mother cougar and her two cubs were reported by some to be near Arcadia, Wisconsin in Buffalo County. The cougars were also reported by some to be from a location in northern Minnesota, and perhaps other locations in the Midwest.
The real story: These photos were taken by Dan and Arlette Schweitzer, of Keystone, SD on October 9, 2008.The photos are of an adult female cougar and apparently her nearly grown cubs. They were feeding on a white-tailed deer killed by the cougars near the Schweitzer property about 4 miles east of Keystone. The adult female has a yellow ear tag and cougar researcher, Brian Jansen of South Dakota State University, believes she was a study animal that had recently slipped her collar. The pictures are not of any cougars in Buffalo or Trempealeau Counties in WI, or any location in northern Minnesota.
Cougar seen during hunting season
During a past antlerless deer season, a man and his son were walking along a heavily-used trail on county forest land. They were surprised to look up at a large boulder and see a cougar's face peering down at them. The man quickly raised his rifle and they slowly backed away. The cougar stood motionless, watching them creep back. After they retreated down the trail and the son was secured in the vehicle, the father ventured back up the trail to try to scare the cougar away. As he approached the boulder, he noticed that the cougar still had not moved. He cautiously took a few steps forward with his rifle aimed right at the animal's face. After getting even closer, he began to suspect that the animal was not alive and he eased his rifle down. Eventually, he stood inches from cat and he was able to see that it was in fact a full-body mount of a cougar that had been carefully placed in this lifelike position. It appears that it was once a very nice full-body mount of a cougar standing up on a rock, but was obviously well-worn with time. Apparently, the taxidermy mount's owner thought it would be funny to set it out and see people's reactions...or perhaps he/she just wanted people to think that we do have cougars living in the state of Wisconsin.
Three stories, one game farm cougar
Fake story #1: On Monday, March 24th, a taxidermist from the area supposedly saw a cougar eating a dead horse in the woods. The man called the DNR to report the cougar, however the person on the phone said there were no cougars in the state of Wisconsin. The man proceeded to explain he was going to shoot whatever it was. After the phone conversation the man supposedly shot the cougar and was showing people at a local bar, claiming he was going to make a mount of it.
Fake story #2: In Vesper, Wisconsin (Wood County) on Monday, March 24th, a large cat, claimed to be a cougar, was shot and killed by a man who said the animal was attacking his pets.
The real story: "A game farm owner near Vesper had a cougar die of natural causes and called a local taxidermist. They wanted the cougar mounted as had been done for the last two of their cougars that have passed. The taxidermist picked up the dead cougar from the game farm, and decided to stop at a local tavern in downtown Vesper to have a few. A number of people saw the dead cougar in the back of his pickup. I talked to the taxidermist at his shop and he showed me the hide of the cougar in his freezer. He had already skinned it. I talked with the game farm owner also, and she confirmed that the cougar was from their game farm."
- Stewart Smith
Retired DNR conservation warden
Cougar hit by car
The fake story: This cougar was hit by a car between Eagle River and Woodruff, Wisconsin. Fish and Game had to come and put him down. He charged at the Fish and Game guy in the process.
The real story: The cat was actually hit on Highway 64, north of Williams, Arizona. The person in the photo is the DPS officer that issued the salvage permit to the driver of the tow truck that struck it. The DPS officer also happens to do taxidermy work on the side and volunteered to skin the lion for free. Supposedly, he had to dispatch the lion and in doing so, it made a lunge in his direction. No Arizona Fish and Game personnel were involved except to verify the story.
Cougars in the Baraboo Hills
The fake story: These photos have been circulating on the Internet since at least 2004, reported as from the Baraboo Hills in 2004. The broad-side photo of cougar was reported as "cougar from Butternut" in the fall of 2006.
The real story: These are probably unretouched photos, but evidence suggests they may be contrived, and most certainly weren't taken in Wisconsin. The deer in the top picture is a mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) which is only found in the western United States. The shrubs are clearly western vegetation and the trees are most likely lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) another western species. In addition, several other things about the photos make them suspicious. The chances of getting both a deer and cougar in the same trail camera frame at the same time is extremely remote. Also the deer seems totally unaware of the cougar immediate behind it. This suggests a staged photo.
Cougar visits family deck
The fake story: These photographs were circulated around the internet with a story stating that the cougar came on to a family’s deck (variously reported as in Tomahawk, Eagle River, Sawyer County) and was staring at the children playing inside on the floor. The photos were also reportedly from South Dakota, Iowa, New York and Pennsylvania.
The real story: These photos were actually taken outside Lander, Wyoming in 2005. Dave Hamilton of the Missouri Department of Conservation tracked the photos to Dr. Dave Rodgers, a dentist from the Lander area, who lives in an area frequented by cougars.
Animals and tracks mistaken for cougar
Cougars are sometimes confused with other animals - from observations of the animals themselves or observations of tracks. Some of the species mistaken for cougars in Wisconsin have included house cats, fishers, bobcats, bears (tracks), dogs, red fox, coyote and wolves. Wild canids, such as wolves and coyotes, may have been mistaken for cougars if they had mange causing them to have short fur and long rope-like tails. Mistaken observations are probably made when animals are seen under poor lighting, moving quickly, are observed at long distances, seeing only portions of the animal, or mistakes in track identification.
Photos of animals mistaken for cougars
Animal tracks often mistaken for cougar
The cougar is a reclusive animal that rarely makes noise that would reveal its presence. According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, 13 people have been killed in mountain lion attacks in North America in the past 100 years. That compares with 1,300 deaths by rattlesnakes and 4,000 by bees.
Although encounters are rare, there are things you can do to enhance your safety and that of friends and family.
- People hiking in areas where cougars are known to occur are advised to hike in groups, and keep small children in sight.
- If a cougar approaches and does not immediately flee, stand tall, wave your arms, throw stones or other objects and yell. Don't run, but slowly back away from the site, keeping an eye on the cougar.
Read the Living with Lions brochure from the Colorado Division of Wildlife for more information.
Genetics and biological samples
- Protocols for collecting and storing DNA samples
Call 1-715-762-1363 or 1-715-762-1362
- Mountain lion - animal tracks
- Puma field guide
- Acoustic and functional analysis of mountain lion vocalizations
Living with cougars
Other cougar sites
Ask the experts
Review the live chat session from 12/5/12 with biologists Adrian Wydeven and Jane Wiedenhoeft as they fielded questions from the public about cougars in and around Wisconsin.