North America is home to only one big cat species—the mountain lion! Mountain lions are some of the most beautiful and secretive animals. Although they used to live in nearly every state across the US, today, they have a significantly reduced range. For anyone living in Wisconsin, today you can officially find out if there are mountain lions in your state! Let’s learn all about mountain lions in Wisconsin.
Are there mountain lions in Wisconsin?
There are definitely mountain lions that live in Wisconsin, but current reports show that there isn’t a stable breeding population that lives in the state.
Mountain lions go by many names, including puma, mountain lion, panther, catamount, American lion, and mishibijn. Regardless of what you call them, they are truly one of the great wild animals that live in North America. These fascinating creatures are apex predators, but unfortunately, they have been in decline for quite some time.
There are an estimated 20,000-40,000 lions that live in the United States. While there are mountain lions that live in Wisconsin, there used to be many more. From 2017 to 2021, there were 76 sightings of the big cat, and each year they become more common. While this may seem scary, it actually means that cougars may be reclaiming parts of their historic range.
Let’s explore a bit more about the history of mountain lions in Wisconsin.
When were mountain lions pushed out of Wisconsin?
The eastern mountain lion has been extinct since the 1930s, and most of the population was dead or pushed west by the early 1900s. Sadly, these animals were killed by farmers and hunters and were seen as a deadly threat to humans and livestock. While cougar attacks do happen, they are incredibly rare. In fact, the presence of mountain lions in an area is actually safer than not having mountain lions in the area. This is due to the fact that mountain lions keep deer populations in check and greatly reduce collisions between cars and deer.
“Yet we estimate cougars would indirectly save far more people from death (5 per year) and injury (680 per year) by reducing [deer-vehicle collisions] than they would likely directly kill (<1 per year) or injure (¼5 per year).”
The eastern mountain lion population is no longer existent, but recent data is showing that mountain lions are beginning to take back their historic range, of which Wisconsin is a part. Today, the only stable populations of mountain lions in the east live in Florida. These cats are known as Florida panthers, and they primarily live in the swamps and pine forests of central Florida. There are less than 200 Florida panthers left in the wild.
When were the last sightings of mountain lions in Wisconsin?
There are sightings of mountain lions in Wisconsin each year. These sightings are quite easy to track, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources keeps a record of them. When looking at these sightings, it’s important to note a few things. The first is that many of these sightings are of the same cat moving through an area. The second is that although there is clear cougar activity in Wisconsin, none of these cats seem to be breeding or living full-time in the state.
Current data suggests that the majority of the cougars that are sighted in Wisconsin are “transient” male cougars that are traveling from a stable population that lives in the Black Hills in South Dakota. Transient animals have negative population growth in a certain area but have been dispersed from some other range where they exist.
What other big cats live in Wisconsin?
Although mountain lions don’t have stable populations in Wisconsin, there are quite a few other animals that live in the region. Historically, Wisconsin was home to three big cats, mountain lions, bobcats, and the Canada lynx. Today, only the bobcat remains.
Bobcats are medium-sized cats that live across much of the United States. In fact, bobcats are the most widespread members of the cat family in the country. Nearly every state has a population of bobcats except for a few of the midwestern plains states.
These amazing animals weigh between 15 and 40 lbs, have stubby tails, spotted patterns, and have a characteristic tuft of hair sticking out of their ears. Due to their size and incredible hunting ability, bobcats have been able to survive in places where the mountain lion was pushed out. Most bobcats feed on rabbits and squirrels, but when the time calls, they have been documented killing deer. In fact, a bobcat can take down prey that weighs as much as 8 times its weight!
Will mountain lions ever return to Wisconsin?
After reading and learning that mountain lions were pushed out of the east, many people wonder if they will ever return. Thankfully, it is looking positive for mountain lions for the first time in years. Populations seem to have stopped decreasing and have finally stabilized. As a result, mountain lions have begun to expand into new territories looking for their own territory and hunting grounds.
The most recent data shows that cougars have begun expanding east again and reclaiming parts of their historic range. As these cats roam and search for new lands, breeding populations will remain in places that they once called home. Wisconsin is actually one of the epicenters where this amazing phenomenon is happening! In a few decades, Wisconsin could easily become a state that can proudly proclaim to be home to thriving mountain lion populations.
And anyway, Iowa and Minnesota have yet to verify a breeding cougar population. And any cougars born in South Dakota must pass through Iowa or Minnesota to reach Wisconsin. Still, it is clear the cougars are expanding their range, which is a thing the cats do gradually