Prairie du Chien man says he saw black cougar

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This track was photographed by Larry Stluka’s son, who has relatively wide hands.

By Ted Pennekamp

A black cougar (also known as a panther) has killed several pigs and damaged a cow and two dogs according to a rural Prairie du Chien man who says he saw the large cat about two weeks ago on his farm.

“I heard him thrashing for about one and half hours with one of my beef cows behind some trees,” said Larry Stluka, who lives about four miles north of Prairie du Chien along Highway 27. Stluka said he got outside at about 5:30 a.m. and went toward the ruckus. He then saw the cougar for 15 to 20 seconds before it got wind of him and disappeared. 

“He had glossy black fur and pointy ears,” said Stluka. “He was low to the ground and long.” 

Stluka said he was about 100 yards away when he saw the wild cat who had the cow and her 150-pound calf pinned up against a bluff.

“Before I got there, he had the cow by the throat,” said Stluka. “The cow had marks on her throat the size of your fist, as if you took a knife. The hair was gone on her neck down to the brisket. There was a chunk of hide the size of a fist gone on both sides of her throat.”

Stluka realizes that many people might not believe that a black cougar is in Crawford County, but he doesn’t care.

“I don’t care if people believe it or not,” he said. “I just want to warn everyone. People need to know.”

Stluka said the cougar has been roaming the area for years and has been getting more brazen. He said his aim is to kill the animal and he would like others to take precautions.

“These things will kill kids,” he said. “The spooky thing is, he’s getting really brave.” Stluka said there have been three times recently that his grandson has heard the cougar growling outside of Stluka’s  home at night.

Stluka said people in the area have been noticing things such as broken limbs when they return home.

He said the cougar killed a litter of eight 10 to 15-pound piglets last summer on his farm, as well as a 60-pound pig this past winter. The cat also apparently tangled with two 70-pound dogs owned by Stluka’s son who lives near Ferryville. The dogs got hurt bad, but survived. “They were in bad shape,” Stluka said. In addition, house cats have gone missing and three house dogs have been terrorized. Neighbors’ cats have gone missing as well.

Stluka said that three months ago, one of his dogs was let out but came racing back to the house in sheer terror. “She came screamin’ back and hit the door so hard and so high I thought she was going to come through the window,” he said. The dog had gouge marks on her front shoulder.

Also, a Boston terrier, which never leaves the farm, went missing. It was later found a few miles away cowering and shaking in the corner of a neighbor’s shed.

Stluka said he has contacted the Wisconsin DNR about the cougar and will contact them again, along with State Representative Lee Nerison, to set up a meeting.

Stluka said what he saw was not a coyote or a wolf, as has been suggested in the past.

Nobody else in the area has seen the big, black cat that he’s aware of, and it has yet to be photographed on anyone’s trail camera, said Stluka.

If anyone has any information about a black cougar in Crawford County or the surrounding area, they can contact Stluka at (608) 306-1850.

In early January, DNR staff confirmed trail camera photos of a cougar in Fond du Lac County. A cougar was also confirmed moving through Lincoln and Langlade counties in December of 2017.

The December photos were captured on one property northeast of Merrill on the same day with two separate trail cameras. Eight days later, two separate photos were captured on a property south of Antigo. In January, a cougar photo was confirmed near Rosendale. This cougar or cougars are not black cougars and are not the one that Stluka said he saw.

The properties near Antigo and Merrill are roughly 23 miles apart, and these photos present the possibility that this was the same cougar, moving in an easterly direction. It is unknown whether these photos show the same animal photographed on multiple trail cameras in central Wisconsin between early August and late October 2017, or of the cougar reported in Douglas County in mid-November.

Cougars can travel long distances in a short time period. Without biological material for genetic testing, department staff are unable to confirm whether this is one or multiple cougars. As a reminder, suspected cougar sightings can be reported by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for the large mammal observation form.

There is currently no evidence that cougars are breeding in Wisconsin, according to the DNR. Biologists believe the cougars known to have entered Wisconsin are male cougars dispersing from a breeding population in the western United States.

Cougars are a protected species in Wisconsin and hunting is not allowed. Cougars are not considered a threat to public safety, according to the DNR. In the unlikely event that a person is confronted by a cougar, the DNR website says they should face the animal and spread their arms and open their coat or jacket to appear larger. If a cougar approaches, make noise and throw rocks or sticks.

Confirmed cougar sighting trail camera photos and maps with confirmed sighting locations can be found on the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, by searching keyword “cougar.”

According to the DNR website, no black phases of cougar have been documented in North America, only South America. On rare occasion, cougars and other large cats have a melanistic condition which makes their fur black.

Identifying characteristics of a “normal” colored cougar

The cougar is the largest wildcat in North America north of Mexico. In the Americas, only the jaguar of South America, Central America and Mexico is larger.

Size — Adult weight: 116-160 pounds (male) and 75-110 pounds (female)

Length: 80-95 inches (male) and 72-80 inches (female)

Tail length: 28-38 inches and ropelike with a black tip

Shoulder height: 27-31 inches

Adult coloration: Coat overall is tawny but can vary from reddish, yellow to gray. Belly, underside, inside legs and chin are white or creamy. It has a black-tipped tail. There is some black on the front of the muzzle, below the nose. The back of the ears are solid black or gray.

Tracks: In mud or snow, 2.7-4.0 inches in length and 2.8-4.5 inches width. They are round and often wider than they are long. No claw marks are shown.

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