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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 is 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
  • 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
  • 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 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 of 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.

2020 Observations

A trail camera captured a photo of a cougar on October 1, 2020 in Oconto County. This photo is the eighth confirmed cougar observation for 2020. Based on [roximity to earlier reports, it's possible this animal is the same individual from the Shawano, Menominee, Portage, and Waupaca County observations in February and March, or may be a different individual.

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

On February 8, and later on March 29, 2020 a cougar was captured on trail camera in Shawano County. These photos make up the sixth and seventh 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

Another Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera photo was captured on February 2, 2020 in Menominee County. This photo predates the March 22 Snapshot Wisconsin photo but was confirmed after. This is the fifth 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 fourth 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 and was later confirmed by a DNR biologist. This is the third 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 January 30, 2020 and December 15, 2019 observations. This is the second 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 and 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 first confirmed cougar observation for 2020.

Price Cougar 1-30-2020

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 in 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 photo was verified by the DNR, 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 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
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 often mistaken for cougar
Dog tracks
Bobcat Tracks
Bear tracks
Lynx tracks

 

Living w/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