Cougar Roaming North Chicago?

Police fanned out around the area of 16th and Lewis late Friday night on the lookout for a cougar. Police searched the area on foot and patrol cars and sharpshooters took position aboard a fire truck bucket after reports that a large animal had been spotted near the Park District Youth Center.

Police were on the scene from about 9:35 pm to 10:30 pm but called off the search soon afterward when they could not find anything.

Reports of a cougar sighting initially came in Friday morning.

"This thing was huge. At first I actually thought it was deer," said North Chicago resident Cheryl Coleman.

Coleman was in her car around 8:30 a.m. at the southeast corner of Argonne Drive and Seymour Avenue when she looked across the street and spotted what appeared to be a very large cat.

The tan-colored, 30-inch tall animal was slowly walking between two houses in the 1400 block of Argonne. Its long, thick tail dangling behind.

"I was sitting there stunned," Coleman said. "This looked like a mountain lion or a cougar. My first reaction was to put my window up."

Coleman said she saw the animal walk north across Argonne and into another person's yard. She then called police.

Coleman said she didn't think anyone would believe her, but she wasn't alone. North Chicago police received three calls from people claiming to see a large tan cat, said Lt. Curtis Brame.

Officers scoured the area, but found only footprints. At least five of those prints were found in snow and mud near the home of Helen Sasavage. The longtime North Chicago resident said she was inside when the big cat was apparently making its rounds. But when she went to take out the trash, she noticed the paw prints, which measured more than 4 inches across.

"The (paw prints) were larger than a cat or dog," Sasavage said. "I don't know where that animal came from. I think he was lost."

If he was lost, he certainly wasn't easy to find. North Chicago Animal Warden Ted McClelland circled the neighborhood all morning looking for a large cat, but saw nothing.

McClelland said he found more than dozen paw prints from 20th Street north to 16th Street, but no sign of the cat. The prints were consistent with a large cat, most likely a cougar or mountain lion, he said.

"We can't yet say for sure what it was," said McClelland, who had a tranquilizer gun with him as he drove around.

If the cougar was still in the area Friday afternoon, it was likely hiding in one of the many tall evergreen trees in the area, or was sunning on someone's rooftop, McClelland said.

Anyone who sees the animal is asked to immediately call 9-1-1 and should not try to capture it.

"It's a safety issue," McClelland said. "We can't have (a cougar) running around here at night."

This isn't the first time a cougar sighting has been reported in Lake County. In December 2004, a Waukegan police officer claimed to have seen a cougar on the Amstutz Expressway, and a few months earlier, numerous people in western Lake County reported seeing a cougar. Those reports were never substantiated.

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, cougars in Illinois are rare. In a press release issued last month, the agency said only two cougars have been found in Illinois since 1862. Both were found dead in Mercer County (2004) and Randolph County (2000).

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