Cougar was likely a pet of someone living in the local area

WILLMAR -- The Willmar cougar will have a new home by the end of the week, but there is new evidence the animal might be from a west central Minnesota home.

WILLMAR -- The Willmar cougar will have a new home by the end of the week, but there is new evidence the animal might be from a west central Minnesota home.

Officials with the Wildcat Sanctuary in Cedar, just north of the Twin Cities, will likely be picking the cat up Friday and taking it to an out of state sanctuary, said Tammy Quist, Executive Director of the Wildcat Sanctuary. DNR officials okayed giving the cougar to a sanctuary Wednesday afternoon.

The 80-pound female cougar was spotted Tuesday morning near Kennedy Elementary School. Police and local animal professionals tracked the cat around the neighborhood for two hours, shot it with four tranquilizers and finally corralled and caged it around 10 a.m.

Since then, nobody has come forward to claim the cougar, but officials believe it isn't wild.

"This is not a releasable animal," said Dr. John Baillie with the Wildcat Sanctuary. "This is not a wild animal that strayed there. This is someone's pet."


Baillie came to that conclusion because of the cougar willingly came into a human habitat and stayed close enough to be shot with a tranquilizer.

Officials believe the cougar may have lived in a Willmar-area home. Nearly a month ago, Quist's office received a call from someone wondering what to do with a unregistered, female cougar.

"They were thinking of surrendering the cat and didn't know if they could meet the requirements for registration," said Quist. Minnesota state law makes it illegal to own a wild animal without a permit.

The male caller said that Willmar was the closest town to his home, she said.

"He never called us back," Quist said. "It could have been the same cat, or it might not have been."

She said they will be checking their call records to see if they can track the caller.

Willmar Police Capt. Dave Wyffels said his office hadn't received any information on any cougar owners in the county. No one in the county has registered a cougar, he said.

Quist said it's not uncommon for people to release wild animals they can no longer take care of.


"This isn't the first cougar that the DNR first thought was wild and later turned out to be owned by a person," she said.

Last year a cougar was shot in Duluth. It turned out the cougar was owned by someone in the area. Also last year, in Anoka County, a collared cougar was caught.

"It's not nearly as rare as people think," Quist said. "What happened in Willmar isn't an isolated incident."

Quist said wild animals are frequently purchased at auction and illegally shipped into Minnesota. Some of the auctions are done in the state, she said.

People buy them as pets, she said, but soon realize these aren't domesticated animals.

Her sanctuary, the only one of its kind in Minnesota, is full because of this problem. This is the reason the Willmar cougar has to be shipped out of state.

The Willmar cougar will live out its life at the sanctuary, she said. The sanctuary will not breed or show animals she said and will have great living conditions. It will not be released, she said, because it likely couldn't live in the wild.

While this cougar doesn't appear to have been wild, there have been sightings in the area.


Local DNR Area Manage LeRoy Dahlke said that his office receives one to two cougar sightings a year.

Some sightings are unsubstantiated or their tracks turn out to be the tracks of large dogs. However, he said, they've gotten "perfect descriptions of cougars from very reliable people."

"I'm sure they've passed through before," he said.

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