This mountain lion was shot by a landowner in Ray County.
The body, a .22-caliber slug lodged in the brain, sprawled on the autopsy table waiting for the scalpel.
Weight: 115.2 pounds.
Length: 79 inches.
Age: Perhaps three years, maybe younger, according to the sharp white teeth and markings on the inside of the legs.
The anatomical evidence that most interested the scientists was hanging out for all to see: The dead mountain lion — nicknamed the Ray County Cat — was robustly male.
And with that, Missouri’s Mountain Lion Response team sighed with relief.
Had it been a wild female, it would have signaled the state could have a breeding population of the big cats. Of the dozen confirmed sightings since 1994, only one — the team’s first investigation — was a female. In that case, some members thought it was someone’s pet.
So far, it’s just the wanderers, said Jeff Beringer, Department of Conservation furbearer resource biologist, who was part of the autopsy team.
That is, the young males looking for love in all the wrong places.
The team saw no signs the healthy feline had been in captivity. Hair samples taken for DNA testing should show the lion’s origins.
In November, a confirmed sighting — a photograph and some tracks — occurred in Platte County. The team took lion hair from that site. They’ll check for a match with this fellow.
The Richmond rancher who shot it Sunday night believes it might not be the only one prowling north of the river. Losing calves, Bob Littleton set out game cameras that were triggered on two different cold October nights.
“One was big, and the other was smaller,” Littleton said. “If this was the smaller one, I sure wouldn’t want to meet the bigger one.”
The team has investigated over 1,500 sightings in the state. “I know that my email will be full with new reports now that this one was shot,” Beringer said. “If we have solid evidence, we go out and investigate. But most of the time there’s no proof.”
One reason that Beringer thinks no cubs are out there in the Missouri hardwoods is the lack of road kills. In Missouri, only two lions met their doom by the wheels of cars: one in 2002 at Interstate 35 and Parvin Road, the other the next year in Callaway County.
The cats are common in western states, with a few in South Dakota, western Texas and Florida. Individuals show up in Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Illinois.
“A neat looking animal, but every mountain lion up close is pretty amazing,” said Beringer. Every March, he traps and collars the creatures on Ted Turner’s New Mexico ranch, giving field lessons to other biologists.
Out there they’re often called pumas. Some people say cougars. Or panther, painter or catamount. Their scientific name is Puma concolor.
The science shows that most cougars attack protecting their young. Or in the hunt for food, he said.
“These wonderers are more afraid of people that we are of them…. And they’re afraid of dogs. A dog can tree ‘em.”
This specimen was up in the branches of a tree on Littleton’s 350 acres just east of Richmond.
His misfortune stemmed from the taste for veal he had developed. A few months ago, Littleton found one calf mauled; another completely disappeared. Then a cow showed claw marks on its hindquarters.
Two raccoon hunters noticed Littleton’s cattle were riled up and skittish. Looking up in a tree, they saw why.
“They called me on their cell phone, and I went out there. They were afraid if they shot him, they’d get in trouble,” he said. Missouri has laws against killing a mountain lion for sport, but not for protecting yourself, family or your property.
It happened so fast. His friends handed him their rifle. He aimed well.
Only after the big cat fell — and a few more just-in-case bullets were pumped into it — did the rancher begin to shake, thinking about the threat.
He called the conservation people and then a television station. Looking into the camera, his voice broke.
Later he said why. He knew how many times his “grandbabies” played in that field. Alone and without fear.
“This has changed my life. I’ll never let them do that again unless I’m there with my gun.”
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