Wild Cat Species in Illinois

Illinois is in the ‘Midwest’ of the USA, just below the Great Lakes. This is quite important because it is a relatively densely populated and intensively cultivated area of the USA. It is a state in the second tier of most densely populated states of the USA. Human population density is relevant to the survival of wild cat species: the more humans there are the less wild cats there are. Also, more farming means less natural habitat for the wild cats.

Bobcat in a backyard
Bobcat in a backyard. Apologies: I don’t have the photographer’s name.
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In 2002 Mel and Fiona Sunquist writing in their wonderful book, Wild Cats of the World show a large blank hole around the state of Illinois where the American bobcat was deemed to be more or less absent at that time because of the reasons stated above: too many people and too much farming.

It is interesting to note that the IUCN Red List (the best source of information regarding the current distribution of wild cat species) tells us that the bobcat is officially present in Illinois; in around 90% of the state. This is an improvement on 2015.

Area where bobcat is supposedly absent in Illinois
Area where bobcat is supposedly absent in Illinois, USA. Note: this is an improvement on 2015. In other words, there are more bobcats in Illinois in 2016 compared to 2015.

No doubt occupants of that state will tell us that the bobcat is present throughout the entire state. Please report sightings in a comment.

There are no other wild cat species in Illinois according to the experts. The other American wild cat which was once found across America, the puma or mountain lion, is no longer seen in Illinois or indeed throughout the entire eastern half of the country. This super wild cat was ‘extirpated’ (eradicated) from the eastern United States by the late 1890s’ (except for a small population in Florida).

However sometimes pumas do roam from the west to the east. They can travel vast distances looking for a home range. A male puma might travel into or through Illinois.

Some people believe that small isolated puma populations still exist in remote parts of the cat’s former range. There are quite frequent sightings of pumas in the east of the USA. Even on this website there are recorded sightings in North Carolina for example.

Others argue that the sightings are of escaped captive cats or cats that have been deliberately released.

Therefore the wild cat species in Illinois are (a) the American bobcat and (b) perhaps the odd puma.

There should be no other sightings of, for example, the small wild cats such as the ocelot or the jaguarundi. These cats do not live in Illinois. Occasionally there are possible sightings of these cats in the south bordering Mexico nd in Florida but I for one have not heard of any sightings in Illinois.

See wild cats of the world map – shows where the wild cat species are found by country.

4 thoughts on “Wild Cat Species in Illinois”

  1. Early June at around 2am I was driving home down River Road in McHenry/Island Lake, IL area. A bobcat crossed in front of my car and disappeared into the brush on the other side of the road.
    I have seen bobcat in CO and have even photographed one in the wild. I do know what they look like and they are pretty unmistakable.
    I was searching online to see if they are a common sight here in IL as I have never seen one before.
    Oddly, turkeys are now showing up all over the area and I have lived here in Island Lake for over 20years and have never seen a wild turkey in this immediate area until this year. Now they are pretty much walking across people’s lawns in my subdivision.

  2. I would think that the upper Michigan peninsula would have a greater wildcat population. But, it’s hard to say. They have routine wolf kills to this day.
    The pictured Illinois bobcat looks very different from our Florida bobcat. Can you explain why?

  3. Many old style farms had many dense tree rows that served as wildlife corridors. Think of them as small forests narrow but long. Contrary to bad propaganda the farmers , not factory corporate farms we have too many of now, recognized maintaining wildlife on their land. So the typical rant to blame people and farming are somewhat misleading. Maintaining wildlife corridors many of which were accidental that have now been demolished for more profit. I come from farmers and the love of the land and nature are inherent. Much like developers should be mandated to install solar and or wind turbines into new homes so should they be required to make reasonable concessions for wildlife.


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