Earlier this week, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) threw away a unique opportunity to study transient mountain lions and get a better idea of what is happening with these special animals in their state, when they shot and killed a lion approximately 10 miles east of the Mississippi River near the small rural community of Morrison, Illinois.
The tragedy occurred when an IDNR Conservation Police Officer responded Wednesday to a call from a Whiteside County farmer that a large cat had been seen running across a corn field towards the farm owner's home and outbuildings.
Upon arrival, the officer checked the residence, horse barn and the other agricultural buildings without finding a lion or any evidence of damage to the farmer's livestock or pets. Further searching by the officer eventually revealed the mountain lion cowering in a concrete tunnel beneath a corn crib.
After consulting with other IDNR law enforcement and wildlife personnel, and at the farm owner's request, it was determined that the lion, which appeared to weigh just over 100 pounds and was approximately 6-feet in length, should be killed.
Illinois' indigenous mountain lion population was extirpated from the state sometime before 1870. As a result, mountain lions are not currently protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code and are usually killed if sighted.
Prior to this incident, there have been three confirmed mountain lion sightings in Illinois between 2002 and 2008. A male lion was killed by a train in Randolph County in 2002. Another male was killed by a hunter in Mercer County in 2004, and a third male was shot and killed on the north side of Chicago in 2008. Although analysis indicates these three animals were genetically similar to mountain lions from South Dakota, their history in the wild is uncertain.
Because of the action taken Wednesday by IDNR, the most that scientists will now learn from this specimen will come from examining the carcass and possibly comparing DNA samples. If researchers had been given the opportunity to capture and collar the animal with a GPS tracking device, a whole wealth of information could have been made available to allow IDNR to better plan for the eventual recolonization of the state by a wildlife species that had been thoughtlessly wiped out of existence almost 145 years ago.
The decision to kill this particular lion exposes a need on the part of the Illinois legislature to enact legislation that will protect an incipient lion population trying to reestablish itself in the state.
To join the fight to help lions return to the Midwest, become a member of the Mountain Lion Foundation today by donating to our Midwest Mountain Lion Defense Fund. For a limited time only, donations of $50 or more will receive our 2014 Mountain Lion Calendar as a free thank you gift.