JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Department of Conservation has just confirmed a mountain lion sighting in southern Linn County along the border of Chariton County. A landowner in the area contacted the MDC on Feb. 15 with two photos of a mountain lion taken Dec. 29 by a trail camera on his property.
“The photo is clearly of a mountain lion and we have confirmed the location,” said Jeff Beringer, resource scientist with the MDC’s Mountain Lion Response Team. “It may be wearing a radio collar based on what appears to be an antenna extending from the cat’s neck.”
The Linn County location is about 25 miles from where a mountain lion was shot and killed in Macon County on Jan. 22. This latest confirmed sighting makes five confirmed reports of a mountain lion in Missouri since November and 15 confirmed reports over the past 16 years.
Beringer said that it appears these mountain lions are young males roaming from other states in search of territory.
“It is very difficult to determine exactly where these individual cats are coming from, but we do know that young male mountain lions go in search of new territories at about 18 months of age and during this time of year,” he explained. “And it makes sense that these big cats could roam into Missouri from the west and use the Missouri river and other river corridors to move throughout the state without being easily detected.”
He added that mountain-lion populations in other states such as Texas, Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska are growing and that young males are dispersing eastward. Recent confirmed sightings in Nebraska have increased from five in 2004 to more than 30 in 2010.
Beringer said that MDC has no evidence to suggest that a breeding population of mountain lions exists in Missouri, and that MDC has never stocked or released mountain lions in Missouri and has no plans to do so.
Mountain lions are nocturnal, secretive and generally avoid contact with humans.
“We have no documented cases in Missouri of mountain lions attacking livestock, people or pets,” he said. “There is a much greater risk of harm from automobiles, stray dogs and lightning strikes than from mountain lions.”
Beringer explained that the MDC’s Mountain Lion Response Team gets hundreds of calls and emails each year from people who believe they have seen mountain lions. When there is some type of physical evidence, the team investigates.
“More than 90 percent of these investigations turn out to be bobcats, house cats, or dogs,” he said. “Our investigations involving claims of pets or livestock being attacked by mountain lions typically turn out to be the work of dogs. And most of the photos we get of mountain lions turn out to be doctored photographs circulating on the Internet.”
Mountain lions (Puma concolor), also called cougars, panthers and pumas, were present in Missouri before pioneer settlement. The last documented Missouri mountain lion was killed in the Bootheel in 1927. The closest populations of mountain lions to Missouri are in South Dakota and a small population in northwest Nebraska.
Mountain lions are a protected species in the state under the Wildlife Code of Missouri. The Code does allow the killing of any mountain lion attacking or killing livestock or domestic animals or threatening human safety. The incident must be reported to the MDC immediately and the intact carcass, including the pelt, must be surrendered to the MDC within 24 hours.
Two recent mountain lion shootings in Macon and Ray counties did not result in charges against the individuals involved because of threats to human safety. A 1994 case involving the shooting of a mountain lion in Carter County for no justifiable reason resulted in the individuals being prosecuted and fined.
“Each situation must be investigated and reviewed on a case-by-case basis and evaluated on its own merit,” explained Beringer. “The Department does not condone the indiscriminate shooting of mountain lions. We acknowledge that people have the right to protect themselves and their property, but simply seeing a mountain lion does not automatically mean there is a threat. We expect people to exercise good judgment and try to avoid confrontations with all wildlife, including mountain lions. Given a chance, mountain lions almost always withdraw from human contact.”
To report a sighting, physical evidence or other mountain-lion incident, contact a local MDC office or conservation agent, or email the Mountain Lion Response Team at email@example.com.
For more information on mountain lions in Missouri, visit www.MissouriConservation.org.