A young male mountain lion that traveled from Nebraska to Springfield is now a resident of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana.
“From our point of view, he’s doing surprisingly well,” said Joe Taft, the center’s founder and director. “When he came, he was pretty upset. He had been sedated and then, had to be sedated again.”
A veterinarian gave him a checkup and treated him for ticks. He was also vaccinated, Taft added. The mountain lion had some scars, possibly from running into a barbed wire fence and a fight. But he was at a healthy weight. He was first put in an old circus cage while another enclosure was readied.
“The first two days, he hid in a box. He pretty much stayed in there. But he came out at night and he ate well,” according to Taft, who said it was fed deer meat. It is now coming out more and appears to be calmer.
Illinois wildlife officials tranquilized the cougar on Springfield’s west side last month after it stopped and appeared to become comfortable in a residential area. The animal, a male estimated at two years old, was tagged with a radio collar in November 2021 in Nebraska. A total of 19 were collared at that time. Taft said this was the only one to leave that state.
What led him to make the journey to Illinois? He was looking for love.
“At a certain age, the male offspring will disperse in search of a mate,” Taft said. “And unfortunately what happens to some of these guys, they’ll wander outside of areas that currently contain cougar populations into areas that no longer contain cougar populations.”
“He would have wandered forever looking for a mate. And, of course, his best chance would have been if he’d have gone straight north or to Florida. So, he had a lot of empty territory to go.”
It’s unlikely he’ll find a mate at the rescue center. Opened in 1991, it has provided homes for more than 500 cats, including lions, tigers, cougars and more, since then. About 120 are currently cared for. But most of the animals there were born into captivity. The females on site have been spayed.
While Illinois officials had hoped the mountain lion would turn around and leave the populated area in Springfield, he settled in for a couple of days. At that point, there was concern he was a threat to public safety. A decision was made to remove him.
Nebraska refused a request to transport him back to that state. Nebraska has a policy that prohibits bringing in animals from longer distances. Sam Wilson, with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said resident populations will often kill a transplanted animal.
“When they’re in a neighboring state, they’re the responsibility of that state. It just comes down to that,” he told the Lincoln Journal-Courier.
So, Taft’s center became the best option. However, taking a wild animal who had made it so far and to place it in captivity was disappointing for many local observers who closely followed the situation.
“It’s disappointing to us as well,” Taft said. “One of the Illinois biologists said to us, if just outside of Springfield he would have gone 15 degrees north or 15 degrees south, he could have gone forever.”
Taft also said in many of these cases, the animals are euthanized. “I’m pleased he’s still alive and that he has a chance to have some kind of a life.”
The future could include a new enclosure on an acre of land. It will allow him to move about, climb on elevated platforms and have more privacy. But it will be expensive to build, as much as $50,000. Taft’s facility is seeking grants and accepting donations from the public.
For now, he’s simply known as NE-110, which is the label on his collar. “NE” stands for Nebraska. Taft said he could be given a more creative name, like most of the other cats on site. But whether he would ever respond to it is unknown.
While the excitement over a mountain lion in town was short lived, it’s possible to see more making their way into the region. One was killed along an interstate in northern Illinois this fall.
“There have been radio-collared cougars tracked for thousands of miles. It’s not surprising to see cougars wandering into Chicago, or Springfield, or even New York. There was one hit by a car outside of New York City a few years back,” Taft said.
“They wander off. They keep wandering, looking for something they’re not going to find.”