Standing in the driveway as my mother passionately shared her strong opposition of the neighbor's pet to the mayor of Edwardsville, Kansas, is as vivid today as it was back in the early 90's. All I knew of this pet was that it posed a lethal risk to myself and all the neighbor kids. Now here I am over twenty years later and hundreds of miles north finding myself pulled in by this same mystical and feared creature, the cougar.
Cougars also known as pumas, mountain lions, panthers, American lions, mishibign (Ojibwa) and catamounts were known to live in Wisconsin over 100 years ago, but they are believed to have disappeared from Wisconsin around 1910. It wasn't until thirty years later that reports about their presence began to surface. It is widely thought that these initial reports were captive cougars or misidentifications.
As time passed many claims were made of sightings, but it was not until 2008 that there was confirmation of a cougar sighting in Wisconsin through tracks and DNA samples. Since that sighting another set of tracks were found nearby and three other cougars are verified to have roamed the state, including the famous St. Croix cougar, later found in Connecticut.
Something about cougars has pulled humans in for thousands of years, in fact, it is rumored that an Inca city was built in the image of a cougar. Many cultures, both past and present, include cougars in their mythology. Modern American culture has not left the cougar out, whether it's Animal Planet's "Animal Face Off: Wolf vs. Cougar" video or viral emails depicting a stalking cougar on someone's deck. The cougar still elicits an emotional response within us.
Although, I may never see a cougar, whether it is the neighbor's pet or a wild one living in the Wisconsin woods, there is something romantic about the idea of living near cougars. I must admit it is one of fear, but it is also one of wildness, grace, and beauty.