People in the Tomahawk area are again reporting cougar sightings. There have recently been two reports, one of two cats near County Road S and a sighting of a single cougar off County Road E.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) receives about 50 reports of cougar sightings each year, with the Tomahawk and Rhinelander areas being particular hot spots for those sightings. The number of reports and the fact that they are concentrated in certain areas leads us to believe that there are indeed cougars around Tomahawk.
Still, none of these reports has been confirmed with photographic evidence or well-defined tracks. We’d like to see someone get a good photograph of a cougar or at least get a good footprint.
DNR wildlife specialists suspect that many people who say they spotted a cougar were in reality looking at a bobcat. Unlike cougars, bobcats are known to exist in northern Wisconsin with a population of about 2,000 animals in the state.
Bobcats are less than four feet long, with pointed, tufted ears and tails about five inches long. Bobcats can weigh up to 50 pounds and resemble a large housecat. A cougar is much larger, up to six or seven feet long, with a thick rope-like tail nearly as long as its body. The coat is a tawny color and the tail has a black tip.
Cougars were indigenous to Wisconsin at one time, but are believed to have been driven away or killed off by man more than 100 years ago. In the 1800s, cougars were seen as a threat to livestock and bounties were paid for their skins. The last confirmed wild Wisconsin cougar was shot near Appleton in 1856.
The nearest known cougar population today is in Manitoba, Canada. But, northern Wisconsin and Minnesota do offer suitable cougar habitat, with large tracts of undeveloped wilderness and an abundance of deer, the big cats’ favorite meal.
We know quite a few people who say they’ve seen a cougar in the area. Some of them we trust would know a cougar if they saw one. We believe there are cougars, at least one or two, living around Tomahawk.
Yet, we’re puzzled that there is still no concrete evidence of their presence. Not a single cougar has been hit by a car, shot by a hunter or treed by hunting hounds.
If more people carry cameras with them into the woods and pay attention to animal tracks, we think it’s only a matter of time before the cougar’s presence in northern Wisconsin can be confirmed.