Wednesday, December 26, 2012
The latest confirmed sighting of a mountain lion in Dekalb County (St. Joseph area) brings to 36 the total number of confirmed sightings during the past 20 years. And although the sightings have escalated dramatically over the last three years, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) says they still don’t have any evidence that a “breeding population” of the big cats exist in Missouri.
On Dec. 12, a night vision wildlife camera took a photo of a mountain lion as it moved down a game trail in Dekalb County. That photo brought to 36 the number of confirmed sightings that have been made in the state since the mid-1990s. Although the confirmed sightings were few and far between during the late 90s and early 2000s, since 2010 MDC reports of confirmed sightings have become routine. This year alone, there has been at least one confirmed sighting in each of the last 12 months.
Just last month, a mountain lion was spotted near Branson in Taney County, and while most of the sightings have taken place in the heavily forested areas of the Ozarks there have also been a number of confirmed sightings in densely populated areas of the state, including both the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas.
The region with the most confirmed sightings in a single county is six in the Mark Twain National Forest portion of Shannon County in southeast Missouri. Also in that same part of the state, Reynolds County has had five confirmed sightings. But while other areas have fewer sightings per county they are nevertheless scattered throughout the state.
In the northwest region there has been one confirmed sightings in each of four counties including the most recent in DeKalb, as well as Platte, Ray and on Interstate 35 in Clay County.
In the north central region there has been one confirmed sighting in Linn and Livingston counties, and two each in Grundy and Macon counties. In the mainly agricultural northeastern region of the state there has only been one confirmed sighting in Lewis County.
In the central part of the state there has been one sighting each on Highway 54 in Callaway County and in Gasconade and Pulaski counties. In addition to the 11 sightings in the heavily forested Shannon and Reynolds counties, there have been another 10 sightings in the southeastern Ozarks including one each in Ripley and Wayne counties and two in Texas and Oregon counties in the south central part of the state. In addition to the sighting near Branson, there has also been one sighting in Christian County in the southwest part of the state.
Still the MDC says that agency has no proof that the big cats in Missouri are anything more than young males moving through the area as they look for a sparsely region that they can stake out as their own personal territory.
Although there have been no confirmed reports of mountain lions in Miller, Morgan or Camden counties, several well respected local residents have said they have seen what they believe was one of the large cats in their headlights while driving at night. However, the MDC says just spotting one of the large cats isn’t enough to prove that the individual has actually seen a mountain lion. Instead, the MDC says, a spotter must provide that agency with evidence of the cat’s presence, such as a footprint, a piece of fur that has been caught on a fence or brush, an animal carcass on which the cat has been feeding or a photograph of the cat itself.
Furthermore, the MDC says to prove there is a breeding population of mountain lions in Missouri that agency will need to see evidence of a pregnant female or a female with kittens under two-years-of-age.
The MDC says it receives hundreds of reports of mountain lion sightings each year, but in most cases the animal turns out to be a bobcat, large dog or some other form of domestic animal. Still the MDC does agree that the number of confirmed sightings will most likely escalate in the coming years.
The following description from the MDC is a good way of confirming whether or not that the animal you spotted was, indeed, a mountain lion. According to the MDC, a mountain lion is a “very large, slender cat with a small head, small rounded ears that are not tufted, very powerful shoulders and hindquarters, and a long, heavy, cylindrical tail. The coloration in adults is uniform. Upperparts are grizzled gray or dark brown to buff, cinnamon tawny, or rufous. Underparts are dull whitish overlaid with buff across the abdomen. The sides of the muzzle are black, and the chin and throat are white. The last two to three inches of the tail are black. ”Total length (of a fully grown mountain lion is) 5–8½ feet; tail length: 21–37½ inches; weight: 79–265 pounds (male), 64–141 pounds (female).”
As far as spotting a pregnant female or her kittens, the MDC says, “It’s rare for a female to breed before 2½ and 3 years of age; thereafter she usually has young at 2-year intervals. Gestation lasts 90–96 days. Young can be born in any month, but the peak is in July. There are usually 2–3 kittens per litter. The kittens are buffy spotted with black. They begin accompanying their mother on hunting trips at about 2 months of age and often stay with her for 2 years. Young males often travel hundreds of miles as they disperse to find new territories.”
Although mountain lions are protected under Missouri law, a hunter or other individual may shoot a big cat if they fear they are in imminent danger of being attacked or in protection of domestic livestock. In fact, within the past two years at least two hunters shot mountain lions for just those reasons within the state and in both cases no charges were filed after the hunters showed proof to the MDC that they had reason to fear the cat.
If you think you have seen a mountain lion, immediately notify the MDC’s Mountain Lion Response Team by notifying your local MDC field office or calling one of the MDC personnel listed below: Jeff Beringer, Resource Scientist, 573- 815-7901, ext. 3623; Rex Martensen, Private Lands Supervisor, 573-522-4115, ext. 3147or Shawn Gruber, Wildlife Programs Supervisor 573-522-4115, ext. 3262.