MORRISON – An officer with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources killed a cougar near Morrison on Wednesday – the first time in the agency’s history.
Officer Ron Palumbo shot the cougar late in the afternoon. The large cat had been seen leaving a cornfield, running toward a farmer’s home and outbuildings.
Palumbo found the animal in a concrete tunnel beneath a corn crib. He killed it with a single shot, according to the department.
David Harrison, an official with the soil and water conservation district, who was on hand, followed Palumbo’s shot with a couple of his own “to make sure” the animal was dead, Harrison said.
“It was an unfortunate thing,” Harrison said Thursday. “It’s unusual for an animal like that to be around humans. They are fairly shy. I don’t know what it was doing in a cornfield. Typically, a cat is nocturnal. They roam around at night.”
IDNR said it had killed the cougar, which is not protected under law, at the request of the landowner. It weighed more than 100 pounds and measured 5 1/2 feet.
The farm owner had some horses on her property and was concerned for their safety, said Tim Schweizer, an IDNR spokesman.
The cougar’s body was to be taken to the Brookfield Zoo in the Chicago suburbs for a necropsy, an autopsy for animals, officials said. Officials want to determine the cougar’s recent history and origin.
Cougars, often referred to as mountain lions, have rarely attacked humans.
Over the past decade, cougars have been killed three times in Illinois. In 2000, one was killed by a train in Randolph County in southern Illinois, and in 2004, a bow hunter killed one in Mercer County south of the Quad Cities.
In 2008, a cougar made its way into the Roscoe Village neighborhood on Chicago’s north side. Officers cornered the cat in a resident’s side yard in the early evening. The cougar tried to attack the officers, who killed it.
They were all males, but the one near Morrison was female. The previous three were genetically similar to cougars in South Dakota, according to an analysis.
Illinois’ cougar population disappeared before 1870, IDNR says. Officials have no evidence that a breeding population exists in Illinois.
In the fall of 2012, trail cameras showed images of a cougar in Jo Daviess, Morgan, Pike and Calhoun counties. Because the cats can travel long distances, and because Morgan, Pike and Calhoun counties are together, officials believe the images may show the same animal.
Robert Frazier, a Sterling-based official for IDNR, said local officers frequently get reports about cougar sightings.
“You don’t want to disbelieve what they say, but you question it,” he said. “I had a police officer call a few years ago who swore up and down he saw a cougar in a tree.”
The officer captured it on film.
“We told him it was a cat,” Frazier said. “Your mind does deceiving things.”