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Cougars in Wisconsin

Cougar standing on an aspen dead fall

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.

Identification

Infograph showing different characteristics on house cats, bobcats and cougars.

Identifying characteristics

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.

Size
  • 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
Adult coloration
  • The coat overall is tawny but can vary from reddish, yellow to gray
  • The belly, underside, inside legs, and chin are white or creamy
  • Black-tipped tail
  • Some black on the front of the muzzle, below the nose
  • The back of the ears are solid black or gray
  • Black phases have never been scientifically documented
Immature coloration
  • 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
Cougar track in snow
Cougar track mud
Tracks
  • In mud or snow, 2.7-4.0 inches in length and 2.8-4.5 inches in width
  • Round and often wider than they are long
  • No claws (although some canid tracks may not show claws or nails)

Report a sighting

Report a cougar observation

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 with biological samples. The DNR should be contacted before any samples are shipped.

Sightings

Background

Cougarmap link

Map of cougar sightings. Click to enlarge the map. 

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. Biologists believe that any confirmed sightings are transient male cougars, dispersing from a breeding population in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

2022 Observations

A cougar was captured on a trail camera in the early morning of September 9, 2022 near Cassville, WI in Grant County, and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 10th verified cougar report of 2022. This individual may be the same confirmed in the previous sighting listed below, but it is not known for sure.

Cougar Grant 2
Cougar Grant 3
Cougar Lynxville 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera in the early morning of September 1, 2022 near Lynxville, WI in Crawford County, and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 9th verified cougar report of 2022. This individual may be the same confirmed in the previous sighting listed below, but it is not known for sure.

Lynxville Cougar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on the late evening of August 28, 2022 near Gays Mills, WI in Crawford County, and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 8th verified cougar report of 2022. This individual may be the same confirmed in the previous sighting listed below, but it is not known for sure.

Cougar_Gays Mills 8.28

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on the late evening of August 10, 2022 northwest of Prairie du Sac, WI in Sauk County, and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 7th verified cougar report of 2022. This individual may be the same confirmed in the previous sighting listed below, but it is not known for sure.

Sauk County Cougar

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera in the early morning of July 29, 2022 near Boaz, WI in Richland County, and was later verified by a local biologist through rigorous scale and measurement assessments. This is the 6th verified cougar report of 2022. This individual may be the same confirmed in the previous sighting listed below as the photos were captured ~3 hrs and about 3.5 miles apart, but it is not known for sure.

Cougar Annear_Boaz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera in the early morning of July 29, 2022 near Boaz, WI in Richland County, and was later verified by a local biologist through rigorous scale and measurement assessments. This is the 5th verified cougar report of 2022. This individual may be the same confirmed in the previous sighting listed below, as the sightings are ~10 miles and about 2.5 days apart, but it is not known for sure.

FirstRidge_Cougar
Cougar_Crossroads_Dye2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on the evening of July 26, 2022 near Marshall, WI in Richland County, and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 4th verified cougar report of 2022.

Cougar_Donnelly_marshall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera in the early morning of July 25, 2022 near Hub City, WI in Richland County, and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 3rd verified cougar report of 2022.

Richland_Cougar7.25

A cougar was captured on a trail camera around June 21, 2022 near Rolling, WI in Langlade County, and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 2nd verified cougar report of 2022.

Cougar_Langlade

A cougar was captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera around June 1, 2022 in Price County, WI. This photo is of particular interest as it suggests this is a male cat indicated by the dark spot on the underside of the rear end near the base of the tail. This is the 1st verified cougar report of 2022.

Cougar Price 6.1

 

2021 Observations

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on the evening of Dec. 2, 2021 in Shawano County, near Belle Plaine, and was later verified by a local biologist through rigorous scale and measurement assessments. This is the 18th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in previous counties listed below between Oct. 10 and Nov. 27, but it is not known for sure.

Cougar 12/02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on the evening of Nov. 25, 2021 in Outagamie County, west of Green Bay and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 16th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in previous counties listed below between Oct. 10 and Nov.22, but it is not known for sure. 

Cougar - 11/25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on the evening of Nov. 22, 2021 in Brown County, SE of Green Bay and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 15th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in previous counties listed below between Oct. 10 and Nov. 15, but it is not known for certain.

Cougar - Brown County

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on the evening of Nov. 15, 2021 in Manitowoc County SW of Manitowoc and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 14th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in previous counties listed below between Oct. 10 and the early morning of Nov. 15, but it is not known for sure.

Cougar manitowoc 3
Cougar Manitowoc 2
 Cougar Manitowoc 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera in the early morning of Nov. 15, 2021 in Sheboygan County near Sheboygan and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 13th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in previous counties listed below between Oct. 10 and Nov. 7, but it is not known for certain.

Cougar - Sheboygan
Cougar - sheboygan

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on Nov. 7, 2021 in Washington County near West Bend and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 12th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in previous counties listed below between Oct. 10 and Nov. 3, but it is not known for certain.

Cougar - West bend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on Nov. 3, 2021 in Fond du Lac County and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 11th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in previous counties listed below between Oct. 10 and 28, but it is not known for certain.

Confirmed Cougar - Fond du Lac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on Oct. 28, 2021 in Winnebago County and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 10th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in previous counties listed below between Oct. 10 and 22, but it is not known for certain.

Cougar - Winnebago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on Oct. 22, 2021 in SW Waupaca County and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 9th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in Lincoln, Marathon, and Wood counties on Oct. 3, 10, and 18, but it is not known for certain.

Waupaca Cougar

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on Oct. 18, 2021 in eastern Wood County near the Portage County line and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 8th verified cougar report of 2021. This individual may be the same confirmed in Lincoln and Marathon counties on Oct. 3 and 10, but it is not known for certain.

Cougar in Wood/Portage County 10/18/2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on Oct. 10, 2021 in central Marathon County near the city of Marathon and was later verified by a local biologist. This is the 7th verified cougar report of 2021.

Cougar walking away from trail camera at night

A cougar was captured on a trail camera on Oct. 3, 2021 in Lincoln County near Gleason and was later verified by a DNR biologist. This is the 6th verified cougar report of 2021.

Mountain lion walking in front of trail camera at night

A trail camera captured two photos of a cougar on April 14, 2021 near Wittenberg in Shawano County and was later verified by DNR staff. This is the 5th verified cougar report of 2021.

Cougar walking in wooded area
Cougar walking in wooded area

A set of cougar tracks was found on March 6, 202 near Washburn in Bayfield County and was later verified by DNR staff. This is the 4th verified cougar report of 2021.

Cougar track in snow

A set of cougar tracks was found on March 6, 2021 near Crivitz in Marinette County and was later verified by biologists. This is the 3rd verified cougar report of 2021.

Cougar print in snow with a hand for size reference

A trail camera captured a video of a cougar on Feb. 1, 2021 west of Park Falls in Price County. The site and video were later verified by a DNR biologist. This is the 2nd verified cougar report of 2021.

A set of cougar tracks was found on Jan. 24, 2021 in northwest Sawyer County and were later verified by biologists. This is the 1st verified cougar report of 2021 and follows a series of confirmed reports in northwest Wisconsin dating back to late 2020.

Cougar tracks in snow

2020 Observations

A set of tracks were found on Dec. 28, 2020 near Cable in Bayfield County. The tracks were later confirmed by a local biologist. This makes the fifteenth confirmed cougar observation in 2020.

Cougar tracks in the snow

A mountain lion was treed on Dec. 26, 2020 near Seely in Bayfield County. Local biologists later confirmed the siting based on photos taken at the scene. This is the fourteenth confirmed cougar observation in 2020.

Cougar in tree

A trail camera captured a photo of a cougar on Dec. 14, 2020 near Washburn in Bayfield County. A biologist later confirmed the site and documented tracks from the observation. This is the thirteenth confirmed cougar observation for 2020. 

A trail camera photo of a cougar in Bayfield County, December 14, 2020.
A photo of cougar tracks found in Bayfield County, next to a yard stick.

A set of tracks were found in Barron County on Nov. 30, 2020 near Barronett. The tracks were later confirmed by department biologists. This is the twelfth confirmed cougar observation in 2020. 

A set of cougar tracks found in Barron County on November 30, 2020.

A trail camera captured a photo of a cougar on Nov. 24, 2020 near Cable, but just within Sawyer County. This individual may be the same confirmed in Sawyer County on Oct. 18, but it is not known for certain. This is the eleventh confirmed cougar observation in 2020. 

Trail camera photo of a cougar near Cable, WI. November 11, 2020.

A trail camera captured a photo of a cougar on Oct. 18, 2020 in Sawyer County. This photo is the tenth confirmed cougar observation for 2020.

A trail camera photo of a cougar captured in Sawyer County on October 18, 2020.

A trail camera captured a photo of a cougar on Oct. 1, 2020 in Oconto County. This photo is the ninth confirmed cougar observation for 2020. Based on proximity to earlier reports, this animal may be the same individual from the Shawano, Menominee, Portage, and Waupaca County observations in February and March, or maybe a different individual.

A trail camera photo of a cougar captured in Oconto County on October 1, 2020.

On Feb. 8, and later on March 29, 2020 a cougar was captured on a trail camera in Shawano County. These photos are the seventh and eighth confirmed cougar observations for 2020. The animal is assumed to be the same individual from the Menominee, Portage, and Waupaca County observations in February and March. 

Shawano County cougar observation photo February 8, 2020
Shawano County cougar trail camera photo March 29, 2020

A trail camera photo was captured on Feb. 2, 2020 in Menominee County. This photo predates the March 22 Snapshot Wisconsin photo but was confirmed afterward. This is the sixth confirmed cougar observation for 2020.

Cougar in Menominee County photographed on February 2, 2020.

On March 22, 2020 a Snapshot Wisconsin camera captured a photo of a cougar in Waupaca County. This photo is an important milestone as it is the first cougar documented using the Snapshot program. This is the fifth confirmed cougar observation for 2020 and is assumed to be the same individual that was observed in Portage County in February.

Photo of a cougar captured in Waupaca County on March 22, 2020.

On Feb. 13, 2020 a trail camera captured photos of a cougar in Portage County which was later confirmed by a DNR biologist. This is the fourth confirmed cougar observation for 2020. 

Portage County cougar Feb 13, 2020
Portage County 2-13-2020

A trail camera captured a photo of a cougar in Price County on Feb. 1, 2020 and was later confirmed by a DNR biologist. The animal is suspected to be the same individual from the Jan. 30, 2020 and December 15, 2019 observations. This is the third confirmed observation for 2020.

Price County Confirmed Cougar Observation 2-2-2020

On Jan. 30, 2020 a trail camera captured a photo of a cougar in Price County which was later confirmed by a DNR biologist. The animal is suspected to be the same individual from the Dec. 15, 2019 observation. This is the second confirmed cougar observation for 2020.

Price Cougar 1-30-2020

On Jan. 17, 2020 a trail camera captured a short video of a cougar in Oneida County. This is the first confirmed cougar observation for 2020.

 

2019 Observations

A set of cougar tracks were found in Sawyer County on Dec. 15, 2019. Another observer also reported tracks in nearby Price County, on the same day, and they are assumed to be from the same individual. The site and tracks were later confirmed by biologists, making these the 11th and 12th confirmed cougar observations for 2019.

Sawyer Cougar Track 12-152019
Cougar Track Price 12-15-2019
   

A set of cougar tracks, leading to a deer kill, were found on Nov. 28, 2019. The tracks led through two different properties in Washburn and Barron counties and were reported by two different individuals. The locations and kill site were later verified by biologists, making these the 9th and 10th confirmed cougar observations in 2019.

Washburn Cougar Kill 11-28-2019
Barron Cougar Track 11-28-2019
Washburn Cougar Track 11-28-2019

A trail camera captured a video of a cougar near Pepin County, on Nov. 17, 2019. The location was later verified by biologists, making this the 8th confirmed cougar observation in 2019.

On Aug. 29, 2019 a trail camera photo was captured of a cougar in Marinette County. The DNR verified the photo, and it is assumed that it is the same individual that was observed on Aug. 21 and Aug. 23, in the same region. This is the 7th confirmed cougar observation in 2019.

Cougar Marinette 8-29-2019

On Aug. 23, 2019, a photo was captured of a cougar in Marinette County. The photo has been shared online as having been taken in other locations in the state, but an investigation by the DNR has confirmed the location in Marinette County. This is the 6th confirmed cougar in Wisconsin in 2019.

Cougar Marinette 8-23-19

A trail camera captured a photo of a cougar in Marinette County on Aug. 21, 2019. This is the 5th confirmed cougar observation in Wisconsin in 2019.

Cougar Marinette 8-21-2019

A once-in-a-lifetime series of trail camera photos capture a cougar depredating upon a white-tailed deer in Bayfield County on Aug. 20, 2019. The photos and location were later verified by the DNR.

Bayfield Cougar Trailcam1 8-20-2019
Bayfield Cougar Trailcam2 8-20-2019
Bayfield Cougar Trailcam3 8-20-2019
Bayfield Cougar Trailcam4 8-20-2019
Bayfield Cougar Trailcam5 8-20-2019

On Aug. 13, 2019, tribal wardens confirmed a trail camera photo of a cougar on the Red Cliff Reservation in Bayfield County.

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On April 3, 2019, photos of cougar tracks were taken by a cross-country skier near Minocqua in Oneida County.

Oneida Cougar Track1 4-3-2019
Oneida Cougar Track2 4-3-2019
Oneida Cougar Track3 4-3-2019

A video of a cougar was captured on a trail camera near Land O’Lakes in Vilas County on April 5, 2019. The location was about 34 miles northeast of the tracks confirmed in Oneida County 2 days earlier and may have been the same animal.

Mistaken ID's

Animals and tracks are 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, coyotes, 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
Trail camera of a bobcat
Trail camera photo of a bobcat
Photo of a bobcat
Trail camera photo of a fisher

 

A house cat mistaken for a cougar
Photo of a coyote
Mangy coyote
Yellow lab

 

Animal tracks are often mistaken for cougar
Dog tracks
Bobcat Tracks
Bear tracks
Lynx tracks

 

Living w/cougars

Living with cougars

The cougar is a reclusive animal that rarely makes a 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 [PDF, exit DNR] brochure from the Colorado Division of Wildlife for more information.

Genetics and biological samples

Identification help

Natural history

Reports

Other cougar sites