Wisconsin may be known for cows and badgers, but the state’s wildlife gets pretty diverse. Between large and small mammals, hundreds of species of birds, lakes full of fish and even some wooded reptiles, there’s quite a healthy ecosystem in our state, where many great animals can regularly be seen. But beyond Wisconsin’s wholesome circle of life that includes bears, bald eagles and timber rattlesnakes, there are some unique, spooky, wacky and rare animals that are typically out of sight.
Reported only twice in 2013—in Florence and Sawyer counties—cougars are a rare Wisconsin beast. Roughly 160 pounds with a strong and agile frame, cougars are the largest wildcat in the U.S. and are a highly predatory species. Yet, due to the juxtaposition of their intimidating prowess and their infamous inconspicuousness within the state, cougars have become an easy subject of hoaxes: numerous out-of-state photos have recently surfaced claiming to depict a Wisconsin cougar. One amazing find however, was that in 2012 a cougar discovered in Connecticut was traced back to Wisconsin. It was probably here on a vacation checking out some of the state’s excellent restaurants, water parks and sports teams!
The first of its kind in over sixty years, Janesville’s white buffalo, “Miracle” was a nation-wide phenomenon when it was born in 1994. As a symbol of hope for many American Indian Nations and Canadian First Nations, the non-albino, white buffalo was visited by people throughout North America at its home on the Heider family farm. Representing harmony within all of humanity, the white buffalo was the subject of prophecy for certain cultures and garnered the Heider’s farm a flood of attention. While “Miracle” eventually turned brown, the Heiders welcomed guests free of charge to see and commune with their special animal as it grew up in the heart of Wisconsin. Miracle passed away of natural causes in 2004, and visitors still visit her gravesite today to pray and leave gifts.
First discovered in Rhinelander’s lumber country in 1893, the 185 pound, horned lizard beast known as the Hodag, became a major symbol for Rhinelander after its popularization from the 1890s to the 1930s. Based on lumber country folklore, the Hodag burst into public consciousness when local prankster, Eugene Sheperd “captured” a Hodag in 1899 and eventually released pictures of a reptilian-mammalian animal that he had fashioned from an ox hide. While Sheperd’s creation was proven to be a hoax, the Hodag has served a cultural icon for the Rhinelander area, becoming the local high school’s mascot and lending its name to the city’s farmer’s market.
The Beast of Bray Road
Touted as the “American Werewolf,” the “Beast of Bray Road” is a newly mythological creature from our very own Elkhorn. A giant wolf-man that walks on its hind legs, the “Beast of Bray Road” has reportedly been popping up throughout the Elkhorn area for years, intimidating passers-by on Wisconsin’s dark, back roads. While the beast has never proven to exist, the ever-fascinating legend has garnered consistent media attention and has been the topic of numerous books and television documentaries. But in the end, there’s only one way to prove the beast is or isn’t real: come to Wisconsin and see for yourself!