Is there a cougar among us?|selkie||08/14/06 at 21:42:16|selkie|xx|0||Betty Johnson, who lives south of the Illinois River from Marseilles, says it is a cougar that she saw in her yard a couple of weeks ago.

"I couldn't believe my eyes. It was a big yellow cat, and I mean big. But what impressed me was the long tail, it was beautiful."

Officially, the large rust-colored predator with a long curved tail has been extinct in Illinois since before the Civil War.

But Johnson, 86, who has been living on her farm most of her life, is familiar with the local wildlife around her creek and woods. What she saw one morning in broad daylight was something new.

"This was definitely something other than a coyote. Believe me, I've seen a lot of them. No, this was big. I've got a little 12-pound Schnauzer that was on the lease out there and she was going to take it on. But I think one mouthful is all Tina would have been for that thing."

Johnson told her neighbor, Lori Sampson, and a couple of days later, while driving past Johnson's home, Sampson had her own sighting.

"It looked like a big cat but it was about the size of a large dog," said Sampson. "I don't know if I could say for sure it was a cougar but it was kind of orange."

Whatever it was, it was not among the coyotes, foxes and deer Sampson has been used to seeing during the seven years she has lived in the area.

Fred Krause of Marseilles, the outdoor writer for The Times, says he has received numerous recent calls on cougar sightings.

"I've been getting a lot of reports and I've taken the camera out numerous times but I've yet to get a photo or to personally see one," Krause said.

Besides reports from south of the river, there have been others he has received from the "Cemetery Hill" area north of Marseilles and one from the nearby Glenwood Farms. Krause said misidentifications of wildlife often happen, but that in this case he believes there is something to the sightings.||