Mountain Lion In Illinois: Everything You Need To Know

Last Updated on December 21, 2023 by Amin Tawar

Mountain Lion In Illinois
Mountain Lion In Illinois: Everything You Need To Know

When you see an animal with a long, thick tail measuring about 40 inches, and a tan or tawny coat, don’t mistake them for dog. 

These are Mountain lions, one of the most magnificent creatures to live on earth. Though Illinois is not particularly known for its wildlife like other states, there are a few wildlife species like the mountain lion that can be spotted in the state.

While it’s rare to spot a mountain lion in Illinois, studying its physical characteristics, and behavior keeps us safe in case we encounter any of its kind in the future. 

Below I’ve explained all the things you need to know about the Mountain Lion In Illinois.

Are There Mountain Lions in Illinois?

No, currently, there is no established population of mountain lions in the state of Illinois. However, there have been few mountain lions sighted in parts of Illinois which mostly are from individuals dispersing from nearby states.

Historically, mountain lions are known to have existed throughout the state. While it’s difficult to precisely tell their range, they are believed to have lived in various habitats across the state like forests, prairies, and river valleys. 

They were a native species of Illinois before succumbing to extinction due to extensive hunting and habitat loss. By the late 1800s, most of these creatures were either hunted and killed or dispersed to nearby states. 

There have been some efforts to reintroduce mountain lions into their historic range. However, this didn’t end in positive results. As the wildlife population at a place isn’t fixed and may change as time passes, even Illinois may inhabit mountain lions in the future as it did in the past.

Confirmed Sightings:

  • In 2022, the records show two confirmed mountain lion sightings, one in northern Illinois and the other in the central region.
  • Looking back to 2017, a more unfortunate encounter unfolded on Interstate 88 in DeKalb County, where a mountain lion met its end in a collision with a vehicle.
  • Before these incidents, the presence of mountain lions in Illinois was a rarity, with only eight confirmed occurrences documented between 2002 and the vehicular encounter in 2017.

How Many Mountain Lions Are There in Illinois?

As per the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, there is no breeding population of mountain lions in the state.

While there have been about 8 confirmed sightings of mountain lions in the past 20 years, these could easily be individuals dispersing from neighboring states like Wisconsin, Iowa, or Missouri. It is important to note that these sightings are sporadic and cannot be relied on to indicate a stable population.

The latest mountain lion sighting occurred in October 2022, in western Illinois. This mountain lion has a GPS attached by the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission as a part of population survey research. 

As the Illinois Department of Natural Resources tracked the individual, it was found to be potentially dangerous to humans as it reached Springfield where it was tranquilized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. It was later relocated to Exotic Feline Rescue Centre Point in Indiana. 

Here’s why estimating the number of mountain lions in Illinois is challenging:

  1. Sparse Population Density: The absence of confirmed breeding populations adds a layer of complexity to the task. Without established groups, accurately counting individual mountain lions becomes a tough nut to crack.
  2. Nomadic Habits: Dispersing males, in their quest for new territories, cover extensive distances. This nomadic behavior makes it a real head-scratcher to track their movements and nail down precisely where they are at any given time.
  3. Data Drought: Despite ramping up efforts to keep an eye on these elusive felines, the available data on mountain lion presence in Illinois remains rather thin. Limited information hampers our ability to draw comprehensive conclusions about their numbers and behaviors in the state.

What Big Cats Live in Illinois?

Mountain Lion In Illinois
Mountain Lion In Illinois: Everything You Need To Know

Big cats refer to the 5 living species of the genus Panthera which include tiger, lion, jaguar, leopard, and snow leopard including non-pantherine cheetah and cougar.

Other than Mountain lions which are known also as cougars, the state isn’t native to any other big cats. While even mountain lions aren’t found much in the state, other big cats can be however found in captivity.

Big cats like African lions, tigers, and leopards can be found as captives in Zoos, sanctuaries, or wildlife rescue facilities in Illinois. Additionally, they may even be found with private exotic owners.

Bobcat: Currently, the only confirmed big cat living in Illinois is the bobcat (Lynx rufus) [5]

  • Widespread Presence: These cats are all over the state, thriving in various environments, from forests and woodlands to open fields.
  • Habitat Chameleons: Bobcats are the real adaptability champs, making homes in forests, woodlands, and even wide-open spaces.
  • Lone Rangers: Bobcats are the solo artists of the animal kingdom, keeping to themselves and being real masters of the disappearing act.
  • Food Choices: When it comes to food, small mammals, rabbits, and birds are on the menu for these elusive creatures.
  • No Human Beef: Good news for us – bobcats don’t pose a threat to humans. We’re off their dinner plans.

Also Check Our Guide On Mountain Lions IN US

Can You Shoot a Mountain Lion in Illinois? Legal Restrictions and Ethical Consideration

No, you cannot shoot a mountain lion in Illinois. As of 2015, mountain lions are listed as protected and therefore cannot be harmed, hilled, haunted, or harassed. However, an exception to this is when a person’s life or property is threatened by these majestic creatures. 

If you feel that your property or life is in danger due to a mountain lion, you need to report to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, whose authorities will take the required actions to support you.

Here’s a breakdown of the legal and ethical considerations regarding mountain lion hunting in Illinois:

Legal Restrictions:

  • Hands Off Policy: The Illinois Wildlife Code lays down the law – hunting, trapping, or taking out mountain lions is a no-go, unless it’s a life-or-property-saving situation. Break this rule, and you’re looking at some serious fines and penalties.

Ethical Consideration/Dilemmas:

  • Ecosystem MVPs: Mountain lions aren’t just strutting around for show. They play a vital role in the ecosystem, keeping deer numbers in check and managing the herbivore squad.
  • Balance Keepers: Offing mountain lions without a second thought can throw the whole natural order out of whack, messing with other wildlife populations in the process.
  • Smart Coexistence: Good wildlife management is all about living in harmony with these big cats, only going the lethal route when there’s absolutely no other choice.

Alternatives to Shooting:

  • Keep Your Cool: If you find yourself face to face with a mountain lion in Illinois, don’t panic. Stand tall, keep those eyes locked, and follow the safety playbook.
  • Size Matters: Make yourself look bigger – throw those arms up, open your jacket wide. It’s like lion fashion, but for safety.
  • Distract and Retreat: Chucking stuff around can send the message loud and clear – time to skedaddle. Slowly back away, find yourself a safe spot, and let the big cat do its own thing.
  • Report The Encounter: After a close encounter, it’s not just a good story. Report it to the wildlife authorities. They need to know what’s going on in the wild.

Can You Own a Mountain Lion in Illinois?

No, you cannot own a mountain lion in Illinois without special permits and licenses. 

While the permits and licenses are issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Dangerous Animal Act regulates the possession and ownership of wild animals like mountain lions and other big cats.

Under the act, only zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, and rescue shelters are allowed to possess mountain lions. However, it is crucial to note that these laws change from time to time, and before deciding to own an exotic/wild animal, always consult with the state department or local authorities to get the latest accurate information.

As mentioned before, there might be exceptions to the prohibition of possessing exotic/wild animals, however, it is very dangerous to do so. 

Here’s the lowdown on why owning a mountain lion is a big no-no in Illinois:

State Laws:

  • Dangerous Animal Alert: Illinois ain’t playing around – the Dangerous Animals Act specifically calls out mountain lions as part of the no-go crew. Owning lions, tigers, leopards, and their wild buddies without a permit? Strictly off-limits.

Public Safety First:

  • Wild Side Dangers: Mountain lions aren’t your regular house cat. Their wild instincts and unpredictable behavior make them a serious threat to public safety. Even seemingly chill animals can go rogue, leading to escapes and unexpected attacks.
  • Animal Welfare Wake-Up: Keeping mountain lions in captivity ain’t a walk in the park for them. Cramped spaces, lack of stimulation, and a wonky diet can mess them up physically and mentally. Stress, frustration, and abnormal behavior? Nobody wants that.

Permits and Exceptions:

  • Rare Passes: In some rare cases, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources might hand out permits to specific individuals or institutions. But it’s no walk in the park – you gotta prove you know your stuff when it comes to animal care and safety. Think scientific research, education, or exhibition level.

Better Ways to Learn About Them:

  • Zoo Vibes: Want to get up close with mountain lions? Hit up accredited zoos and sanctuaries. They provide legit enclosures and top-notch care.
  • Conservation Support: If you’re all about protecting mountain lions and their stomping grounds, throw some love to conservation organizations doing the real work.
  • Wild Safaris: For the real deal, join guided hikes or wildlife tours. Watch mountain lions do their thing in the wild, where they belong.

Also Check Our Guide On Wolves In Illinois


Although spotting mountain lions in Illinois isn’t an everyday thing, their occasional appearances hint at the potential for a comeback. Making sure we all get along – humans and these majestic creatures – depends on responsible behavior and keeping a watchful eye on what’s happening in the wild.

And that was everything you need to know about the Mountain Lions in Illinois. I hope this article was answered all your queries.

Thank You For Reading!


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