ore specific data points. The actual estimate was 303 total lions, including 45 adult males, 87 adult females, 33 sub-adult males — defined by GF&P as 1 to 3 years old — 35 sub-adult females and 103 kittens.
If that seems exact, consider this: It isn’t. Under the model, the actual population could still be anywhere from about 250 to about 350.
Even that estimate can be confusing, because GF&P made it after the 2012 season to replace the estimate being used before the season. So where are we now? GF&P isn’t prepared to say.
It seems easy to take the new 300 lions estimate at the start of the season and subtract the 96 confirmed mortalities to get a current estimate. But additional lions have been born since Jan. 1. Some lions likely have migrated out of South Dakota’s portion of the Black Hills, while others have likely migrated in.
“It is very difficult to estimate the lion population annually, let alone throughout the year,” Kanta said. “So I cannot tell you where we are right now.”
Kanta does believe, however, that the population will be below 300 by the end of the year. That moves it toward a GF&P Commission goal of 150 to 200 lions. And Kanta believes the population is already on a slow decline, in large part because of the higher kill quota on lions this past season.
The next season, proposed now by the GF&P Commission to allow up to 100 lions to be killed, would increase that downward trend, Kanta said.
“The lion population is decreasing and will decrease much faster with a harvest of 100 lions,” he said.
Maybe, maybe not, some argue.
Steve Bulle of Hayward has been one of the many public skeptics about GF&P lion population estimates. He still questions the 300 estimate and also doubts the downward trend.
Bulle points to the record — and still growing — mortality count this year as a reflection of a lion population that continues to grow. The 73 cougars taken in the past hunting season and three more by landowners outside the main Black Hills caused 76 of the 96 lion deaths so far this year.
That hunter kill is up from the 50 taken in 2011, when hunters were restricted to a smaller kill quota by GF&P.
A perhaps-more-telling number is the lion mortality rate so
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