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Experts puzzled by cougar’s 600-mile trek

Wayne Ortman
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Oct 09, 2008 05:12 PM
 
SIOUX FALLS, S.D.– Another Black Hills mountain lion has gone the distance.
A subadult lion wearing a radio collar from South Dakota was killed this week about 950 kilometres away in Saskatoon. Four years ago, a collared lion from the Black Hills travelled more than 1,000 kilometres to Oklahoma, where it was hit by a train.
 
Jonathan Jenks, a wildlife professor at South Dakota State University, said there are no other documented cases of mountain lions – also known as cougars – travelling that far.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unusual because we’re learning more and more about these critters,” said Jenks, who’s leading a study of some 80 radio-collared cats in the Black Hills.
 
“We’ve had a bunch of them (collars) on and if they can find what they are looking for by not going as far, they are going to stop. But if they don’t they will keep going.”
 
Wildlife specialists say young lions – mostly males – are being driven out of the Black Hills by older lions who protect their territory. Where they go and why is one of the objects of the tracking study, which now includes collars that can pinpoint the lion’s location using GPS co-ordinates.
 
“This was one of the first GPS collars on a subadult. Unfortunately, it failed while it was still in Custer State Park (in April). Then what happens is you just hope it shows up again,” Jenks said.
 
Had the transmitter been working, researchers could have plotted the route that took the lion nearly due north from the Black Hills.
 
The collar research program also is being used to assess the hunting season on lions, which will begin in January and sets a quota of 35 total lions or 15 females. The Department of Game, Fish & Parks estimates there are 220 to 280 lions in the state, most of which are in the Black Hills.
 
Jenks said other collared lions from the Black Hills have ventured north, possibly following pine tree habitat.
 
“There are these fingers of pine that move up to the Bear Lodge Mountains north of the Black Hills, but if a lion comes along to the south and to the east of the Black Hills they see the Badlands and flat prairies versus. pine fingers. They grew up in the pines and they probably feel more comfortable moving within the pines. But that’s a hypothesis.”
 
Police in Saskatoon killed the cougar in a residential area after deciding it was a threat to public safety.
 
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