By Kevin Murphy
Tue Dec 21, 2010 4:45pm EST
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) – They may be called mountain lions, but some seem to prefer the Plains.
Kansas, one of the flattest states in the nation, this week verified the 5th sighting of a mountain lion since 2007 in the rural reaches of the state.
The latest big cat was photographed by a landowner’s trail camera December 7, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
Biologists believe the lions have wandered into Kansas from the Black Hills of South Dakota or the Rocky Mountains of Colorado hundreds of miles away. Those and scores of other unconfirmed mountain lion sightings are probably of males, officials speculated.
“When a young male reaches a certain age they want to go out and find their home range and eventually they end up here,” Mike Miller, chief of information production for wildlife and parks, said on Tuesday.
Missouri, which borders Kansas on the east, has verified eight mountain lions since 1994, according to the state Department of Conservation.
The most recent was photographed in a tree in northwest Missouri on November 26. In both Kansas and Missouri, wildlife officials visit the location of the sightings to search for tracks or other evidence verifying the presence of the animal.
Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, weigh from 90 to 160 pounds and prey on deer and other animals. Shooting them is illegal in Kansas or Missouri except for protection of life or property.
No reports of the lions hurting people or livestock have surfaced, but reaction to the lions varies.
“Some people think they are great and symbolize the wild, but others are very concerned and fearful,” Miller said.
The lions tend to be reclusive and to avoid people, he said. A Kansas landowner shot a mountain lion in 2007 and was charged with illegal possession. Prior to 2007, the last verified shooting of a mountain lion was in 1904 in Kansas and 1924 in Missouri, according to parks and conservation officials.
Landowners are helping biologists study the presence of the mountain lions by setting up trail cameras, said Matt Peek, a biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
“We are interested in learning what we can as they move into and through the state,” he said. “We are relying a lot on the public.”