for National Geographic News
A wayward cougar killed Monday on the streets of Chicago was probably hunting for a mate on the wrong side of town, experts said.
The two-year-old male may have quested more than 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) from the Black Hills of western South Dakota only to die in a hail of police gunfire after it was cornered in an alleyway.
Other experts think it's more likely the cougar—also known as a mountain lion or a puma—was a pet that had escaped its owner or been released to fend for itself.
"A mountain lion walking right into the city of Chicago makes about as much sense as you and me walking into a den of rattlesnakes," said Alan Rabinowitz, president of the Panthera Foundation, a conservation group.
"Behaviorally, it makes no sense for a big wild cat."
No matter where the cat came from, Chicago police said they had no choice but to gun down the cougar after it appeared in the city's Roscoe Village neighborhood, and many wildlife officials agreed.
"It's a public safety issue," said John Kanta, a wildlife officer at the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks. "The cougar was real close to a grade school."
Critics note that residents near where the cougar was shot had been reporting sightings of a big cat in their midst for weeks before the incident.
Local authorities could have been better prepared with tranquilizer guns and trained animal-control personnel, they say.
"In our state this would never have happened," said Sara Carlson of the Wyoming-based Cougar Fund. "That cougar was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The Chicago incident occurred at a time when development in Western states has increased the chances of humans and cougars crossing paths.
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