Everywhere outdoors people meet to socialize, it seems the conversation sooner or later turns to mountain lions. It’s not just in Missouri either, as there have been confirmed mountain lion sightings all over the Midwest and even into some eastern states. Missouri’s Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed 14 mountain lion sightings in 2011, a sharp increase from the just 12 cougar sightings in the previous 16 years.
Missouri’s lions are not all coming from the same location either. DNA testing can reveal where they originated based on their genetic makeup, and eleven western states maintain mountain lion genetic databases that Missouri biologists can compare to DNA samples from lions confirmed here. Four of the mountain lions confirmed last year yielded DNA showing they came from three different western states, two from South Dakota, and one each from Montana and Colorado. All of these lions were young males.
The two South Dakota lions were killed, one by a Ray county raccoon hunter and the other by a Texas county homeowner. The young lion killed by Macon county coyote hunters came from central Montana, and the remaining cougar, which left a tuft of hair on a fence after crossing a road in front of a motorist in Oregon county originated in Colorado. According to MDC Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer, “Large carnivores has big home ranges and males disperse long distances in search of females. It’s logical that the rate of dispersal increases when cats have repopulated available habitat in neighboring states, and there’s also an innate drive to travel.”
Prior to 2011, the largest number of sightings in any one year was two, in 2007 and 2010, so 14 in one year was an unexpected large increase. There have already been two confirmed sightings this year, so 2012 may also be a larger year for lion sightings. Part of the increase may be attributed to increased public awareness, the growing popularity of trail cameras, and increased activity by the Mountain Lion Response Team. For whatever reason, there’s no doubt that Missouri is hosting an increasing number of mountain lions in a state that for more than 70 years thought that all the mountain lions were extirpated.
And it’s not just Missouri, but a growing number of other Midwestern states that are finding they also have at least some mountain lions. Nebraska has confirmed more than twice as many mountain lion sightings than Missouri and North Dakota has also recorded more than the Show-me State. There have been confirmed sightings in Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas and Michigan. Young cougars seem to be showing up all over, including one killed by Chicago police in an alley on that city’s North Side, and one hit and killed by a car in Connecticut.