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Are There Wild Cats in Wisconsin?

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

bobcat in the forest

Wild cats are beautiful and regal, but many people have only been able to see them in a sanctuary or on television. When we think of wild cats, we may think of tigers and lions that are not native to the United States. However, certain species of wild cats do live in the United States, specifically in the Midwest.

If you’re in Wisconsin and think that you have seen a wild cat, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. The state is home to three native species of wild cats: the cougar, Canada lynx, and bobcat. It can be difficult to tell them apart, though, so in this article, we look at their characteristics. The next time that you’re in America’s Dairyland, keep an eye out for one of these magnificent beauties.

1. Cougar

female cougar
Image Credit: Geoffrey Kuchera, Shutterstock

The cougar goes by several names, including puma, mountain lion, panther, catamount, and American lion. It is the largest wild cat in North America. Hundreds of years of hunting and habitat destruction have reduced their numbers in Wisconsin. Today, they are a rare sighting, but they’re still active in the state.

Cougars can stand 27–31 inches high and weigh between 75 and 160 pounds. Their coats are tan, reddish, or gray. They have white or creamy bellies, chins, and undersides. The tips of their tails are black, and they may also have black around the muzzles. The backs of the ears are black or gray.

Baby cougars have spotted coats until they are 9 months old. Some faint spotting can remain until they are 2 years old.

Habitat & Diet

Cougars live anywhere that there is access to food and shelter. They can make their homes in mountains, forests, deserts, and urban jungles. They are found in nearly every type of habitat. Their coloring gives them the great ability to camouflage with many different surroundings. They are silent hunters, only needing one or two leaps to swiftly catch their prey.

Wherever the white-tailed deer makes its home, a cougar may be found. This animal is a cougar’s preferred food source. They will also hunt coyotes, raccoons, and porcupines. They are most active between dawn and dusk.

They are solitary hunters and are rarely seen by humans. On average, there is only one human fatality caused by cougars each year in the United States and Canada.

What to Do If You Encounter a Cougar

  • Do not run.
  • Pick up any small children.
  • Face the cougar, and speak firmly while backing away until you can leave the area or the cougar retreats.
  • Appear larger than the cougar by opening a jacket, standing on a rock, or standing shoulder to shoulder with others to appear intimidating.
  • Do not turn your back.
  • Don’t approach the cougar, especially if they’re eating or have cubs nearby.
  • Be assertive if the cougar doesn’t leave — wave your arms, throw something at them, and yell loudly, appearing to be a threat rather than prey.
  • If the cougar attacks, be prepared to fight with sticks, rocks, shovels, or anything that you can grab.
  • Try to stay on your feet.
  • Pepper spray can be effective in the event of a close encounter.

2. Canada Lynx

Canada Lynx in the snow
Image Credit: Warren Metcalf, Shutterstock

The Canada lynx is elusive and steers clear of humans. Spotting one of these cats is unlikely, but they are in Wisconsin and several other northern U.S. states. These small cats weigh around 20 pounds and stand 20 inches high. They’re slightly larger than an average housecat.

The Canada lynx has a short tail and long legs. They look like bobcats, and it can be difficult to tell them apart. The lynx has black ear tufts over 1 inch long. Their short tails are tipped black. Their rounded feet are furry, enabling them to easily walk through snow.

Habitat & Diet

Canada lynx mostly live in the northern states and along the Canadian border. They choose areas to live in that have vast sources of small prey animals that replicate quickly. Their favorite is the rabbit. This enables the lynx to play an ecological role too.

They prefer forests with thick vegetation for hunting small animals and older forests with lush covering for their dens.

What to Do If You Encounter a Canada Lynx

Encountering this animal is extremely unlikely. The lynx wants to avoid you and will keep to themselves. They are not known to attack humans. As long as the lynx is not cornered or provoked, they will prefer to hide from you and not encounter you.

However, if you should find yourself face to face with a lynx, here are a few things to remember:

  • Don’t crouch or hide, but instead, make yourself appear as large as possible.
  • Yell, howl, or make aggressive sounds to discourage the lynx from attacking.
  • Give the lynx an escape route so they can flee from you, which is what they want to do.
  • Don’t turn your back on the lynx.
  • If you are with others, stay together and walk as a group, presenting a unified front.
  • Don’t run but back away slowly.

3. Bobcat

Bobcat crouching on top of boulder
Image Credit: bmarxdueren, Pixabay

The bobcat resembles the Canada lynx, but they have dark markings on the top half of their tails and their ear tufts are short. The tracks that a lynx leaves behind can be confused for those of a domestic house cat, but bobcat tracks measure more than 4 inches wide.

Bobcats are small to medium-sized, only weighing around 15–30 pounds. They can stand up to 21 inches tall. Their name comes from their bobbed tail, which is only 5” long and tipped with irregular black and white markings. Their coats can be reddish-brown to gray, and they have distinctive facial tufts.

Habitat & Diet

Bobcats live in the thick forests of northern Wisconsin. They are more common sights than the cougar or Canada lynx, but they are not interested in confronting humans. If a bobcat sees you first, they are likely to avoid you and stay hidden until you’re gone.

There is an estimated population of 46,620 bobcats in Wisconsin. They are typically active during twilight hours.

Bobcats prefer to eat rabbits but they’re opportunistic. If they can find a frail, injured, very young, or very old deer, they will opt for that. They also eat squirrels, porcupines, and woodchucks, but they’re not opposed to eating rodents or birds. If necessary, they’ll eat insects.

What to Do If You Encounter a Bobcat

Encounters with bobcats are rare, and if you do see one, they will likely avoid and run away from you. Attacks on humans are extremely rare. If a bobcat approaches a human aggressively, they may be sick or rabid. If you are attacked, seek immediate medical care and report the incident as soon as possible. If you see a bobcat:

  • Make as much noise as you can, like blowing an air horn or banging pots and pans.
  • If possible, spray the animal with a hose.
  • Gather children and pets to protect them.
  • Back away slowly and deliberately without turning your back on the bobcat until you can reach safety.

Final Thoughts

These beautiful cats in Wisconsin may be elusive, but now you can tell the difference between them if you happen to see one. The most important thing to remember is to respect their space and view them from a safe distance. They may look cute and cuddly, but they don’t want anything to do with humans.

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Featured Image Credit: milesz, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

Authored by

Nicole is a lover of animals of all sizes but is especially fascinated with the feline variety. She’s the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese, and works every day so he can relax in the sunshine or by the fire. She’s always had a cat in her home and has spent countless days with others, observing behaviors and softening up even the grouchiest of the lot. Nicole wants to share her kitty expertise with you so you and your cat ...Read more

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