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Mountain lion history examined

by Alan McArthur
Landmark reporter

Before the European settlement of North America, the mountain lion's range covered the entire continent from coast to coast.

The mountain lion (also called cougar, puma, panther, painter, and catamount) previously ranged all through North and South America.

Mountain lions are currently only living along the west coast of North America, through Central America and in South America.

The only other large cat native to the Americas is the jaguar in Central and South America.

The mountain lion population began dying out during the western expansion, as farmers and hunters killed the animals across North America. Farmers killed mountain lions because the cats would attack farm animals, according to information from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).

Mountain lions normally prey on large animals such as white tail deer, which were also hunted during the same period of time. The lions may also hunt smaller animals such as rabbits and birds.

The only natural enemies of mountain lions are bears and wolves. Black bears have become more prevalent in the Ozarks of southern Missouri, moving north from Arkansas.

The last recorded mountain lion in Iowa was killed in 1867, in Illinois by 1870, Nebraska in 1890, Kansas in 1904, Wisconsin in 1908 and in Missouri by 1927.

Jeff Beringer, resource scientist with the MDC, said the mountain lions weren't hunted to extinction in Missouri.

“It was more like persecution, people just shot them,” said Beringer. “People didn't want them around. People were competing with the wildlife. There used to be a lot more people in the rural areas.”

The mountain lions survived in far western states, from the Rocky Mountain Range west to the Pacific coast. Information from the MDC shows mountain lion populations have increased.

“Mountain lion populations in western states are at near-record levels, and as the habitats fill up, new animals born each year have to travel further to locate suitable living space.”

The mountain lion is a protected animal under the Endangered Species Act however some states do have designated hunting seasons to kill the animal. California does not have any hunting season for mountain lions and populations are estimated between 4,000 and 6,000.

The mountain lion population in Oregon is estimated to be around 5,000 animals. Florida has a population of around 85. South Dakota has a population of around 235 cougars.

Other states with breeding populations include Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, and Texas.


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