4th December 2004

New Boston, Ill. “” Kenny Tharp of rural Mercer County, Ill., is an experienced hunter who has traveled to Utah over the years to pursue mountain lions, a creature he never had seen in his neck of the woods.

Until Saturday, that is.

The 39-year-old rural New Boston man and a friend were making a couple of deer drives Saturday behind his house on 76th Street when his friend came upon a large dead, mountain lion, also known as a cougar.

“It was a big male, 84 inches long from nose to tail,” Tharp said. “He was between 120-130 pounds.”

“I”ve lived here for 20 years and have never seen one here before. Here I go to Utah to hunt mountain lions and a find one a half-mile from my back door.”

The animal had been dead at most a day, and was preserved by the cold weather, he said. It had been shot with a bow, with the arrow entering the big cat’s shoulder and exiting at a downward angle through the chest cavity.

“He didn”t die right away,” he said. “They’re a tough animal. They’ll take a bullet and have enough left in them to fight a dog for 20 minutes before dying.”

A report of the lion was taken by the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department, which confirmed the incident.

Tharp placed the lion in his father’s freezer and plans to have a taxidermist stuff it for him. “I’m going to have it mounted for sure,” he said. “It’s definitely a trophy.”

But the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, wants to view the cougar before that happens, said Illinois DNR spokeswoman Gayle Simpson, who is based in Springfield. “We’ll take a close look at it and try to determine its origin and see where it’s been and what it’s been eating,” she said.

But DNR only can take the cat if Tharp allows them to, for further study. Otherwise, it is his. “We’re hoping he at least lets us look at it,” she said.

The last occurrence of a mountain lion in Illinois was several years ago in Randolph County, she said.

“That was in southern Illinois and in that instance it had been killed by a train,” Simpson said. “We were never able to determine if it had escaped from someone who had it in captivity.”

She said there have been a number of reports of mountain lion sightings in other parts of the state, but they have turned out to be false. Three mountain lions have been killed in Iowa since 2000, the first cougars confirmed in the state since 1867.

The mountain lion, also known as a cougar, puma, panther, catamount or simply lion, are found mostly today in the western United States and Canada, according to information provided by the Colorado Division of Wildlife Web site. The animal’s staple diet is deer and elk.

The cats were hunted into extinction in the eastern and Midwestern states in the 1800s and early 1900s. But there may be indications the lions are working their way eastward. Since 2000, more than two dozen of the animals have been killed or photographed outside the animal’s normal range.
For example, a national park ranger in Michigan spotted a mountain lion near the shores of Lake Michigan in June. And in eastern Nebraska in November, a woman found a mountain lion asleep in a tree. A conservation officer killed the animal in South Sioux City, Neb.
David Maehr, an authority on mountain lions at the University of Kentucky, said that the cougar population in the west appears to be growing, and young males are seeking new territory. Additionally, mountain lions are thriving because deer and elk have grown in numbers while competing predators such as wolves and bears are struggling.