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There have been unconfirmed mountain lion sightings in Platte
ON THE PROWL?
Courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation
by Alan McArthur
It has been 82 years since the last native mountain lion prowled the wooded hills and streams of Missouri.
Yet, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) created a special Mountain Lion Response Team (MLRT) in 1996 after reports of sightings began again in Missouri.
Mountain lions (also known as cougars, puma, panther, painter, or catamount) once ranged all across North America from the eastern states to the Pacific Ocean. In the early 1900s mountain lions were killed by farmers and residents throughout the eastern United States and Midwest.
The last native mountain lion in Missouri was killed in 1927.
Recently, there have been some unconfirmed sightings of mountain lions in the Platte County area, the latest being in January at the intersection of Highways 371 and U, west of the Camden Point exit off of Interstate 29 in northern Platte County. There have been other unconfirmed sightings several miles to the north in the New Market area in extreme northern Platte County.
There was also a confirmed mountain lion on Jan. 12 near Columbus, Neb. Tracks were found near the Loup River in Platte County, Neb. There was also a photo taken of the lion near the River in Nance County.
Sometimes the number of phone calls the MDC receives about mountain lions increases in the winter time.
“We receive phone calls, usually more this time of year,” said Aaron Post, MDC agent for Platte County. “We get a half dozen every winter.”
Post said that none of the calls have been confirmed as being of a mountain lion.
“We've had a few cats show up in Missouri,” he said. “It is not unusual for young males to travel. It's the same with bears and deer, sometimes they wander.”
Mountain lions range in size from 125 to 160 pounds for the males and 80 to 100 pounds for the females. The big cats stand about 2 to 2.5 ft. tall at the shoulders.
In the United States, the mountain lion often favors white tail deer, but it will prey on any animal it can catch.
Since 1994, there have only been 10 confirmed mountain lions in Missouri.
“We have had lots of sightings, but in many cases it is something else,” said Jeff Beringer, resource scientist with the MDC. “Sometimes there is not enough evidence it was a mountain lion.”
The MLRT looks for evidence of a mountain lion such as hair, tracks, a photo of the animal, or one of the animal's kills.
“We received hundreds of calls on sightings,” said Todd Meese, wildlife damage biologist with MDC and member of the MLRT. “Lots of photos turn out to not be mountain lions. We get a lot of dog tracks and photos.”
The most recent confirmed sighting of a mountain lion occurred in December 2006 in Livingston County. There was a photo of a “probable subadult disperser” taken by a motion-activated game camera, according to information from the MLRT.
The nearest confirmed instance of a mountain lion was in Clay County in October 2002. A two or three year old male mountain lion was struck and killed by a car along Interstate 35 near the Interstate 29 interchange.
OUT OF STATE VISITORS
Male mountain lions are very territorial and will kill other males in their territory, so young males are usually forced to find a new territory. A mountain lion can have a range of up to 100 square miles and as small as 30 square miles, according to Beringer.
“It depends on how much food is there,” said Beringer.
Many of the mountain lions come to Missouri from other areas to the north and west.
“Most of them come from South Dakota,” said Meese.
There is a breeding population of mountain lions in the badlands area of South Dakota, located near the western edge of the state. There are also populations in Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, and Texas, as well as a small population in Florida.
“The young males are trying to find new territory,” said Meese. “They have been tracked traveling over 800 miles.”
The distance from Rapid City, S.D., near the western border of South Dakota, to Platte City, Mo. is approximately 550 miles. Mountain lions have been tracked from South Dakota going to Oklahoma and also to Saskatchewan, Canada.
According to Meese, the young male mountain lions are looking for a new territory with plenty of food and also a mate. Meese said the lions will follow rivers to find new territory.
The Missouri River travels through South Dakota and rivers from the badlands area empty into the Missouri River.
Sometimes the animals do not find the right conditions and return to the territories they left from.
“Some go out and then come back,” said Meese.
Meese said that in South Dakota there is a population of about 235 animals and there are 20 to 35 mountain lions as road kill a year.
“Florida has the smallest population, with only two roads through the area and get 11 to 15 road kills a year,” said Meese. “There are roads every mile across this state and we've had two kills since 1994. With the amount of people in the areas, there would be a lot more confirmed occurrences.”
Beringer said he does not think Missouri has a breeding population of mountain lions because there is not enough evidence.
“I don't think we have a breeding population, although I could be wrong,” said Beringer.
Even though Missouri does not have the female mountain lions to establish a population, there are areas of the state suitable for mountain lions.
According to Meese, the best area for mountain lions to establish a population would be in the Mark Twain National Forest. The area is heavily wooded with a large population of deer and other prey as well as few people in the forest.
WILD OR CAPTIVE?
While a sighted mountain lion could have come from an area further away, it could actually be an animal that has escaped from captivity.
“There is always the possibility of a captive animal escaping,” said Beringer. “I don't know of any that may have escaped recently. We did have a leopard found in southern Missouri that no one claimed.”
The state of Missouri allows residents or businesses to apply for licenses in order to house wildlife.
According to Lynn Totten, accounting technician with the MDC, there are only 24 licenses in the state to house mountain lions currently active.
Totten said the majority of the licenses are for facilities which try to teach school groups about how mountain lions live in the wild.
“Some breed them to sell, some just hold (mountain lions) because they like them,” said Totten.
Totten also said there are no permits issued for Platte County.
According to Meese, there are permits for captive wild animals in Cass, Lafayette, and Buchanan Counties. The permits allow the owner to keep black bears, mountain lions or wolves.
However, sometimes captive mountain lions are not registered with the state.
“There are an unknown amount of animals as watch cats,” said Meese.
Meese said that some illegal drug operations use large cats or other wildlife as watch animals for their operations. Sometimes law enforcement agencies have to call in the MLRT to deal with the animals after a drug raid is conducted.
MOUNTAIN LION RESPONSE TEAM
The MLRT has received thousands of reports of mountain lions in Missouri since being formed in 1996, however only 10 of those reports have been confirmed.
The MLRT investigates the reports of mountain lions.
According to Meese, when the MLRT gets photos of possible mountain lions, they will go out to the scene and have cutouts of different animals to attempt to recreate the photo.
They can also conduct DNA tests to determine whether the animal is native to North America or is from Central or South America.
“The response team does want reports,” said Meese. “We take every report seriously, nothing is impossible. Mountain lions do move around.”
Meese said there are reports of mountain lions from Platte, Clay, and Jackson Counties.
“Oh yeah, it's pretty common,” said Meese. “When we have snow on the ground we get more reports, everything stands out more.”
The MLRT does receive a lot of photos of possible mountain lions, however usually they turn out to be other animals.
“Almost all the photos we get turn out to be bobcats,” said Meese.
Other animals mistaken for mountain lions include: house cats, bobcats, red foxes, coyotes, black and yellow Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, and white-tailed deer. Often the tracks reported are from bobcats or large dogs.
Anyone who thinks they have seen a mountain lion or have proof of a mountain lion can call the local Lee's Summit office of the MDC for 816-759-7300 extension 2229 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The first confirmed mountain lion in Missouri was in December 1994 in Carter County. A small adult female mountain lion was run up a tree by raccoon hunters near Peck Ranch Conservation Area. The hunters then shot and killed the animal and a photo of the animal was provided to the MDC. Each hunter was fined $2,000 for shooting a protected species.
The next instance was in November of 1996 in Reynolds County. A conservation agent took a night-time video of a mountain lion eating a deer carcass.
The third confirmed instance was in January of 1997 at Christian County. A video was provided to the MDC of a mountain lion. The MLRT think the animal was formerly held captive because of its behavior.
In January of 1999 a mountain lion was treed by the dogs of rabbit hunters. Tracks were found in the snow and two deer carcasses were found near by.
Another video was taken by a deer hunter from a tree stand in December of 2000 in Lewis County.
In December 2001 a photo of a “probable subadult disperser” was taken by a motion-activated game camera in Pulaski County.
A male mountain lion was hit by a car in Clay County in October 2002. The MLRT found deer, raccoon and man-made fibers in the animal's intestines. There were no signs of it being held in captivity. The DNA of the animal showed it was from North America.
A second animal was struck by a car in August of 2003 in Callaway County. The animal was found to be a male with no signs of being in captivity. The intestines contained squirrel, rabbit, and white-tail deer. The DNA showed it was from North America.
In November 2006 in Shannon County a deer carcass was found with signs of being a mountain lion kill, tracks were also found nearby.
The most recent sighting was in Livingston County in December 2006. A photo of a “probable subadult disperser” was taken by a motion-activated game camera.
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