You never know what you're going to find on your trail camera. That's what Brett Charlton found out just more than a year ago when he went deer hunting on his property between Griggsville and New Salem in Pike County.
"The first thing you think of is someone playing a joke on me," Charlton said. "Then I looked at it and looked at it and I realized it's real!"
Charlton's confirmed cougar sighting is one of the latest in the Tri-States, but not the most recent.
The most recent one happened just a few months ago in Whiteside County when a big cat was tracked to a drain pipe on a farm.
A conservation agent euthanized that cougar at the request of the farmer who was concerned for his livestock.
And that seems to be the divide in the Land of Lincoln. As the number of confirmed cougar sightings in Missouri and Illinois grows, so does a relatively new problem for states like Illinois, which has no policy for how to deal with the animals.
Click here to learn more about why mountain lions are moving into the Tri-States.
"So we have these animals coming into the state because they're looking for suitable areas Illinois has those area but its more of a social question. Do we the people of Illinois want to see those animals in Illinois? That's the hot topic right now," Mark Alessi, the Assistant Wildlife Chief with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said.
Alessi says right now mountain lions have no protected status in Illinois. That means they can be legally killed with no consequences, as long as the person using a firearm has a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID) and permission from the landowner.
But that may change. Due to confirmed cougar sightings, DNR is working to determine public opinion on the animals. Officials teamed up with Southern Illinois University which sent out social surveys on large carnivore issues. What they found is a deep divide in the state.
"People in Northern Illinois were more supportive of having mountain lions in the state, than rural residents," Alessi said. "People tend to like the idea of mountain lions being here, but because since Illinois is 96-97 percent privately owned, the big question would be where could they go where they won't impact people and what they care for."
The issue is also under discussion by the state legislature.
Mountain lions are protected in Missouri, but the wildlife code allows for people to kill them if protecting themselves from attack. However they are required to turn any mountain lion carcass over to the state.
So far in Iowa, mountain lions are not protected.
Illinois is also seeing an influx to the north of other large carnivores including wolves and bears. Wolves are endangered, so they are protected under the wildlife code.
Click here to learn more from the Cougar Network.