BROOKFIELD, Wis. --- A 50-pound cougar was caught on surveillance video strolling up to a home in the Milwaukee suburbs and peeking through the window.
Brookfield residents Dan and Bridget Guerndt found some large paw prints in their yard, but they did not know what had created them until they looked at video from a mounted camera, which had picked up shots near their house.
Brookfield police said, another resident contacted them around 5:45 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, when she saw a cougar under a pine tree in her backyard. Officers responded and confirmed it was a cougar.
Agents from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources were called, and they also confirmed it was a cougar. Police said after conferring with the DNR employees, they agreed the DNR would return Sunday morning and "attempt to deal with it." Neighbors in the immediate area were told about the situation, police said.
But Sunday morning, the cougar, which was estimated to be 1½ years old, was gone. The DNR tracked the cougar in a southeastern direction, but lost the trail.
Scott Walter, large carnivore specialist for the DNR, said cougars coming into populated areas is uncommon.
Walter said the cougar is likely a young male cougar, dispersing from the Black Hills region of South Dakota, which is the nearest established cougar population. Genetic analysis of animals dispersing through Wisconsin have been linked to that population, according to the DNR.
"After young males enter their second year, they begin dispersing looking for their own territory and a mate," Walter said.
Male cougars tend to disperse much farther than females. Male cougars wander at random, which is what the DNR is seeing with the Brookfield cougar, according to Walter.
It was at least the second sighting of a cougar in less than two weeks in the metro Milwaukee area. A cougar was videotaped Feb. 7 walking outside a home in Colgate in Washington County, according to the DNR.
That cougar was likely the same animal verified in a Jan. 5 trail camera image from Rosendale in Fond du Lac County, according to the DNR. It was unknown Sunday whether the cougar that appeared in Brookfield was the same one.
In the Colgate sighting, the cougar probably was a dispersing male. There is no evidence of a breeding population of cougars in Wisconsin, the DNR has said.
Walter said it is impossible to tell for sure if the Brookfield cougar is the same one spotted in Colgate. There is no genetic material, but Walter said it appears highly likely it is the same animal.
Although some news outlets reported the animal appeared to be passive and may have been injured or hit by a car, the DNR officials said the video suggests the cougar in Brookfield is healthy.
Cougars are solitary animals and are rarely dangerous, according to Walter. The animals are likely to move continuously in attempts to find a quiet place and hunker down. Cougars are most active at night, as dispersing male cougars make long movements at night to find a place to settle down.
Walter said it is rare for a cougar to attack a human, but encourages people with small pets to keep on eye on them.
"Cougars are wild animals and predators looking for wild prey to eat," he said.
If a cougar is spotted, contact local police. That department will let the DNR know about the sighting. People can also go to the DNR website and report a large mammal sighting.
Walter said the DNR has a response protocol but it depends on the context of the sighting. The Brookfield cougar was found in a brushy area with residents in the immediate vicinity. Officers couldn't neutralize the cougar or use a dart gun because of its proximity to homes and thick brush surrounding it, police said.
Other circumstances predicate the response, according to Walter such as if the animal is behaving strangely or if there is a perceived risk to people in the area.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Paul Gores contributed to this report.