16 April, 2008

Where the Wild Things Are

A few days ago, there were reports of a cougar prowling around the Linden Street train station in Wilmette, roughly 3.5 miles north of The Box House. The general consensus at the time was "yeah, right," because this is very much an urban area. Later, a cougar was shot and killed in Roscoe Village, in Chicago, just a few miles south of us. It was the first one sighted within the city limits since Chicago was founded in 1833, and many people assumed it was the one seen previously in Wilmette. After all, the odds are already huge that a great cat would make its way here. But more than one? Never.

My mind boggles at the thought of a cougar padding its way through my town on gigantic cat feet and into the City unseen. Although, if he followed the train line, I guess it's quite possible. Maybe he passed me silently in the night as I took Maggie out for her last call. What would I have done had I seen it? Probably wet myself. Many years ago, I had unexpectedly run into a black bear while on a canoe trip, and froze in near terror as the boat glided within inches of him on the shore--so close I could smell the musty odor of his fur.

So the assumption in Chicago was that the mountain lion gunned down in Roscoe Village had to be the same creature seen on the North Shore. But maybe it wasn't the same cat. Today, there were reports that another cougar has been spotted up in the Skokie Lagoons, to the north and west of Wilmette.

Who would have believed this could happen? Although there are the occasional rumored sightings of big cats along the Mississippi River or just on the other side of the Wisconsin border, the last confirmed sighting in Illinois of a wild cougar was in Southern Illinois in 1862.

I like that my stable, predictable Midwest surroundings can still surprise me.

(I couldn't post the photo of the dead cougar; it didn't seem right. So I took one from Wikipedia instead.)


Anonymous said...

Joanne, I couldn't believe it either, but my mom gave me the breaking coverage by phone. I always used Linden Street Station to hop the train for Cubs games! Josie and I were both sad it had to be shot, and wish he'd had a happier ending in the wild.

Joanne said...

I know...my heart just broke when I heard the news. I wish it didn't have to go down like that; the cougar was probably terrified at the end.

But I can't quite point the finger of blame at the Chicago Police for how they handled it. They're certainly not trained for this--I mean, seriously, a cougar in Chicago?--and none of them carry tranquilizers as standard issue.

Still, it is sad that there's no room here for something so beautiful and wild.

Jen said...


Sandy said...

That makes me so sad.

Ethan@OneProjectCloser said...

1. "Probably wet myself" was a hilarious line.
2. It is sad that they had to shoot it. Why not tranquilizers or something?

Anonymous said...

There's a doctor the next town over from me who has pet lions/tigers and one got loose one day. People were FREAKING out. They found him a day or two later sleeping on a lawn near the Hudson River.

Poor cougar, wish they had used tranquilizers but assume they had to do what they did given the opportunity.

Yeah, I'd have wet myself too.

Anonymous said...

I love animals (especially big cats ... I even named my company Striped Tiger Graphics), but I can completely understand why what happened, happened.

Apparently tranq guns take up to 30 minutes to work. This beautiful animal was trapped and desperate. Who knows how it would have reacted when shot with a dart?

When I lived in California, joggers and hikers were always being attacked and sometimes killed by mountain lions. Civilization and big cats are a bad combination. Unfortunately, when the cougar came into the city, it was going to end badly for someone.

Like Joanne, my heart broke a little when I saw media pictures of this magnificent creature lying in the street. Thanks, Joanne, for not using one of those photos.

Anonymous said...

Not as big as cougars, but at least it's a HAPPY wildlife story. A family of foxes - a mom and six "kits" are seriously living in downtown Lawrence, and they are the cutest things I have ever seen. Be sure to watch the video:


kingstreetfarm said...

Very sad that this beautiful animal had to be shot. I guess I can understand how it happened, though, since as you mentioned, it's not like the police in Chicago often see wild cats strolling around!

Here in the NYC suburbs, we're really seeing a wildlife renaissance in the form of hawks, falcons, brown eagles, wild turkeys, coyote, and even some bears! It's good news overall that their populations are stabilizing and adapting, but at the same time, unfortunately sometimes they do wander into places that are dangerous for both themselves and the people who live there.

Last year a coyote made his way into Central Park, of all places, and while he was captured alive (after leading quite a merry chase over the course of several days!), unfortunately he was ill and actually collapsed and died a few days later when they tried to release him back into the wild in a more appropriate location.