Cougar Spotted in Iowa – Increased Sightings Across Wisconsin & Upper Midwest
Last year saw increased mountain lion sightings across Iowa, Wisconsin and the Midwest in general. Those numbers seem to be on an upward trend, as another one was recently spotted in Allamakee County. This sighting is in addition to a cougar spotted earlier this year in Indianola and is something that may keep local hunters on their toes again this year across the upper Midwest.
Taking a look at our more Northern neighbors, according to reports from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, so far in 2023 there have been 25 verified cougar sightings in the state. That's an increase of 10 sightings when compared to last year. Several of the reported sightings were caught on local trail cameras and pictures can be found here. Some big cat experts have even criticized the handling of cougar sightings in the state and says officials should be better at educating public on how to deal with big cat and encounters with them. According to that report, confirmed cougar sightings have recently occurred in Fond du Lac, Menomonee Falls, Brookfield, and Colgate.
In Illinois and Iowa there have also been increases in big cat activity and sightings. The Illinois DNR captured and relocated a tracked cougar that traveled from Nebraska, through Iowa without incident last year. A mountain lion was also hit by a vehicle in late October 2022 just outside of Chicago. According to the Illinois DNR, cougars captured or killed locally in the last 10 years were all sub-adult, 2 to 3 year-old, males. DNA analysis strongly suggests that these cougars have all been wild males dispersing from the western population around South Dakota.
Illinois DNR wants to remind residents that mountain lions are protected under Illinois law. That means it is illegal to hunt or harass them, unless the cats are a threat to people or property. In any instance, the authorities (State DNR) would like to be informed when a cougar is sighted.
In Iowa, sightings continue to rise in the Western areas of the state but have been steadily moving toward our resource heavy area, which includes the driftless region of the Tri-States and Mississippi River. The Iowa DNR confirmed around 16 cougar sightings from 1995 to 2014. In 2014 there was a confirmed deer kill by a cougar in Northeast Iowa. More recent sightings include this one in Allamakee, last year Madison and Warren Counties, as well as in Indianola this year and in 2021. See the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Cougar Sightings map below which is current up to 2021.
The Iowa DNR notes that there are an average of 2 to 4 cougar sightings per week reported to their Clear Lake office from locations all over the state. This does not count all of the reports other DNR staff receive in their regions throughout the state as well. Over 2,000 mountain lion sightings have been reported since 2010. However, strong evidence in the form of legitimate tracks, photos, video, and other evidence is necessary before sightings can officially be placed or mapped as confirmed.
Our Departments of Natural Resources know that young male cougars do continually travel across the Midwestern states. This is usually done in an attempt to find a mate or expand their shrinking habitat; as their original areas see increased competition for mates, food, and territory. While Iowa might offer ample food, it lacks the vast expanse of wild country and female mates that the young males are seeking. This means, they often continue moving on, as there are currently no known breeding populations in the state of Iowa. State biologists confirm that cougars are now wandering through Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Missouri at an increased rate. However, confirmed sightings do remain rare to nonexistent in other Midwestern states from Kansas to Ohio.
The cougar is the largest wildcat in North America and can weigh up to 160 pounds. And deer hunting season now open, it's very important to be aware of your surroundings. Cougars do NOT hibernate, so they are out and actively hunting during and throughout the cooler months. The Tri-States is more than capable of supplying these large predators with a healthy and thriving rabbit, turkey, and deer population.
Since hunting season is officially open; and you, and the cougar, are going after the same prey (deer). It might be a good idea to know how to deal with a run-in should it occur.
- DO NOT RUN and DO NOT Play Dead! Running will stimulate the cats urge to hunt/attack you and playing dead could get you killed.
- Stand tall and make yourself BIG.
- Attack first. Scream loudly at the would-be attacker and throw objects if necessary.
- Keep children and small pets close, standing between them and the cougar while slowly backing away.
- If attacked, fight back with a sharp object if possible, aiming for the eyes of the big cat.
"The mountain lions will remain difficult to manage both from a biological and political standpoint. It is doubtful that the mountain lion will ever have much presence in Iowa. First of all there is some question about whether Iowa actual good mountain lion habitat. The tolerance or intolerance of humans will dictate whether they will ever be able to get a foot hold in the state. Some sort of legal status in the Iowa Code will be necessary. In the meantime, their possible presence in Iowa has generated considerable excitement both pro and con and only time will tell whether they once again will become designated wildlife in the state."
-Iowa DNR, Mountain Lion Pamphlet
Again, the DNR wants the public to report cougar sightings in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. To report one, access the large mammal observation form on the DNR's website and include details of the exact location, time, date and description of the animal. Photos of the animal or its tracks are also helpful to the agency. Place a ruler next to tracks to help provide a size reference. Biological samples (hair, scat) are also very helpful.
Photos: A Trip Through Wild Cat Den State Park
Gallery Credit: Tom Ehlers
Hiking Trails and Nature near Dubuque, Iowa
Gallery Credit: Tom Ehlers