Confirmed mountain lion sightings rise in Missouri, Kansas
Kansas City, Mo. Reports of confirmed mountain lion sightings have increased over the past decade in Kansas and Missouri, but experts say there are no signs that the animals are reproducing in either state.
Mountain lions — also known as pumas, panthers, catamounts and cougars — were nearly wiped out in the U.S. in the early 1900s as hunting and a shortage of prey drastically reduced their numbers. But a century later, they are starting to recolonize in the Midwest, researchers said.
Almost all of the mountain lions confirmed in Kansas and Missouri since 1994 were males coming from established populations in the Black Hills, Badlands and northwestern Nebraska, The Kansas City Star reported.
Female mountain lions are typically reluctant to wander far from their mothers, said Clay Nielsen, director of scientific research for the Cougar Network, a nonprofit research group. Males aren't so inhibited.
In May, Missouri state troopers euthanized a male mountain lion in Laclede County after it was struck on Interstate 44. Since 1994, there have been more than 50 confirmed sightings of the animals, the Department of Conservation said. In Kansas there have been 10 cougar sightings during that period.
Matt Peek, research biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, said the difference between numbers in the two states can be explained by the roaming mountain lions' route.
"We know that a lot of lions have dispersed from the Black Hills," he said. "They're more likely to come across Nebraska from west to east following the river, which leads them to Missouri."
Kansas has significant prey but the landscape is less than prime, Peck said.
The Midwest rebound is a result of modern management and conservation, experts say.
Mountain lions in Missouri are protected under the Wildlife Code, which prohibits hunting but allows the killing of an animal threatening life or property. A similar code applies in Kansas.
The Missouri Conservation Department's mountain lion response team has only identified one female, killed in 1994.
While conservationists see the mountain lion's return as a success, it's also a source of concern because they are predators.
Many states, including Nebraska, allow hunting of the animals. There won't be an open season there this year because there was a higher number of lion deaths last year, said Sam Wilson, animal program manager at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
There are no confirmed cases of mountain lion attacks on livestock, pets or people in Kansas or Missouri.