The cat family is quite a diverse one. You’ve got the “king of the jungle” lions, the lightning-fast cheetahs, and the evasive, stealthy leopards. In North America, there are plenty of wild cats, but one of the most common ones is the mountain lion. Called by many names (puma, cougar, panther, to name a few), the mountain lion is a big cat with a big story to tell.
Are There Mountain Lions In Illinois?
The state of Illinois, with its many state parks and state forests, has plenty of thriving wildlife. One wild animal that was once very common, but is now seen once in a blue moon, is the mountain lion.
Mountain lions are wild cats that are native to the Americas. Long ago, they roamed the whole of the United States. However, due to urbanization and fast-paced development, their population is now restricted to the western parts of the country.
Before the 1870s, they were widespread in Illinois as well. Unfortunately, around that time, they were eliminated because of habitat loss, hunting, and overharvesting.
How Many Mountain Lions Are In Illinois?
Sadly, there is no longer an indigenous population of mountain lions in Illinois. Illinois isn’t the only state to lose its mountain lion population. There are no mountain lions who permanently reside in the Eastern United States, with Florida being the only exception.
However, a lot of states including Illinois have seen mountain lions who are just passing through. In the last 20 years, there have been 8 individual sightings of these majestic cats in different parts of Illinois.
Where Are Mountain Lions In Illinois?
Mountain lions haven’t set up camp anywhere in Illinois. According to a study conducted by Southern Illinois University, less than 7% of the state’s land is suitable for mountain lions to populate.
However, mountain lions are an extremely adaptable species. They can learn to thrive in any kind of environment. So, when they are spotted in new states, it is most likely that they are trying to look for new places to live. Their populations in South Dakota, Nebraska, and the Rocky Mountains are rising, which could explain why they were spotted in Illinois. The ones that made their way into the state were spotted in both highly populated cities like Chicago, and less dense ones like Mercer County.
Also, Check Our Guide On Mountain Lions In the U.S.
Mountain Lions Sighting In Illinois
Every year, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources receives reports about mountain lion sightings in the state.
Since 2002, there have been eight confirmed sightings of mountain lions in Illinois. The first four sightings, which took place from 2002 to 2013, were all males that were around 2-3 years old. Unfortunately, most of these instances have the same ending- the killing of the mountain lion that was spotted.
In 2002, a mountain lion was killed by a train in Randolph County. Two years later, another one was killed by a bow hunter in Mercer County. Again, in 2008, a mountain lion died at the hands of Chicago law enforcement officers in Roscoe Village. In 2013, another one succumbed to injuries after it was shot by a police officer in Whiteside County.
In 2022, there were confirmed sightings of two different mountain lions. The first lion was spotted on September 28th, when a trail camera of a private property in Whiteside County captured a large cat on its feed. Wildlife biologists confirmed that it was, indeed, a mountain lion. However, less than a month later, this same cat was hit and killed by a vehicle on I-88.
The second mountain lion was spotted in October 2022 in Springfield, Illinois. It actually came to Illinois from Nebraska. At first, it moved around the edges of the city, but later made its way to more populated areas. To protect both the people living there and itself, the mountain lion was captured and relocated to a rescue center in Indiana.
In Illinois, seeing a mountain lion is quite rare because they don’t live there naturally. Slightly large domestic cats, domestic dogs, and bobcats are commonly misidentified as mountain lions.
Like most other big cats, mountain lions are as stealthy as can be. They only come out after dark, and avoid humans at any cost. If you manage to spot one, you may only be able to see it for a few seconds before it disappears into the dark of the night.
Can You Hunt Mountain Lions In Illinois?
While it is true that many mountain lions have tragically died in Illinois, they are still protected by the state. In 2015, the Wildlife Code was amended to add mountain lions, black bears, and gray wolves to the list of protected species.
This law makes it illegal for them to be hunted. It also prevents them from being killed or hurt by people in the state. Unless there is an imminent threat to someone’s life or someone’s property, one cannot harm any mountain lions in Illinois.
To further protect this species, the INDR has requested the public to report any mountain lion sightings, as quickly as possible. Reports of sightings should be backed up by photographic evidence, not just eyewitnesses.
If you think you’ve spotted a mountain lion, here’s how you will know. They are around 2-3 feet tall, almost half the size of an average man. They have tan fur and cream-ish or white chins and underbellies. Their faces and ears are rounded.
One way to distinguish a mountain lion’s paw prints from that of a wild dog’s is by looking for claw marks. Mountain lions walk with their claws retracted, so their paw prints will not have claw marks. Dog prints, however, have claw marks.
If you ever spot a mountain lion in Illinois, don’t panic. They are more scared of you than you are of them. Just avoid contact and keep your pets and children close to you. And don’t forget to take a picture, so you can report it!
Also, Read About Mountain Lions in Indiana
And that was everything about the Mountain Lion In Illinois. I hope this article served you well.