Video shows 'large feline' near Bloomingdale -- or does it?
Here kitty, kitty.
Bloomingdale police released video footage this week showing what they believe is a large, unidentified feline perched in a tree at Meacham Grove Forest Preserve near Bloomingdale.
DuPage County Forest Preserve officials aren't so sure.
The clip was shot during a May 19 helicopter flyover. Authorities were searching for a woman missing from a nearby senior facility — she was later found — when the mysterious creature showed up as a bright spot on a video taken with thermal-imaging equipment.
Police initially believed the animal could be a cougar but later classified it as a "large feline."
Officials at the forest preserve district said they're investigating but haven't found any other signs of a large, wild animal in the vicinity.
"There's no physical evidence, no track marks, no carcasses — nothing that would suggest there's anything there," said Sue Olafson, the district's director of public affairs.
Olafson said the district wasn't able to determine "anything at all" from the video.
"We really don't want people to think there has been a confirmed sighting of anything," she said. "There hasn't. We really don't know what we're dealing with."
On the video, the suspected feline is lounging and moving around on a treetop limb. The animal shows up white, which in thermal video indicates a heat source, said John Krueger, detective watch commander for Bloomingdale police.
He said one segment of the video appears to show a tail.
As a precaution, authorities last week alerted the forest preserve district, which has its own policing agency, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Bloomingdale police also issued a statement to give residents a heads-up.
"We don't know what it is," Deputy Chief Bruce Beck said Friday when the warning was first issued. "We can't say it's a cougar. We can't say it's anything."
The district placed motion-activated cameras in the area where the footage was shot — just north of Lake Street on the border of Bloomingdale and Roselle — and has been regularly canvassing that location as part of the investigation.
It's entirely possible a cougar could have moved into or through Meacham Grove, said Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of collections and animal care at Brookfield Zoo, though he was unable to draw any conclusions from the footage.
"It looks like Pooh bear," he said Wednesday.
Cougars — also known as pumas, mountain lions and catamounts — are rare in Illinois but could become more common as they migrate farther from overpopulated habitats in South Dakota, Zeigler said. Recent sightings have been reported in downstate Pike and Calhoun counties, as well as the Chicago suburbs and Wisconsin.
"They can be in an area for a long time and you wouldn't see them," Zeigler said.
He said the feline predators are reclusive, nocturnal and "very opportunistic animals," preferring heavily wooded areas with a regular food supply. Generally, they steer clear of people but "tend to look at dogs and cats as a food source."
Zeigler said cougars even have lounging preferences, choosing the comfort of horizontal branches over crooked ones, unlike in the video from Meacham Grove.
"I wouldn't be concerned," he said.
Olafson said the district occasionally gets calls about unidentified animals, but no one has ever reported being attacked by one. Visitors are always advised to stay on trails, keep an eye on children, and never approach or corner any animal they might encounter, she said.
"If you do encounter an animal, don't run or appear timid," Olafson said. "Stand tall, maintain eye contact, and slowly walk away. Make sure to appear bigger than you are."
In September 2009, police investigated back-to-back reports of possible cougar sightings in Wheaton. An expert who examined the animal's paw prints eventually determined it was not a cougar but likely some other kind of feline.
Any sightings should be reported to forest preserve police at (630) 933-7240.
"We'll be more than happy to go out and investigate it," Olafson said.
• Daily Herald Staff Writer Robert Sanchez contributed to this report.
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