Truth Behind the Killing of Perhaps Only Mountain Lion in Missouri

Missouri’s last native mountain lion was killed in 1927, eliminating the species from the state and virtually the whole eastern two-thirds of the country.

Despite man’s attempts to push this animal to extinction and completely kill off the American lion,

populations of the species are still managing to survive in the West. Over the course of many decades, individual cats have begun to wander east and with the help of legal protection could eventually recolonize their former range. Unfortunately, they are not well protected in places where they are rare. As a result, nearly every cat that is spotted by humans in the Midwest ends up being shot for fear it could pose a risk to public safety. This happened, yet again, over the weekend in Missouri. A young dispersing male lion was spooked by nearby hunters and took refuge up a tree (where lions hide when they are scared). The hunters spotted the cat and then called the landowner, a livestock farmer. The owner came out and quickly shot the lion in the head. Missouri has only had 12 mountain lion sightings since the species was wiped out. They are only allowed to be killed if they are posing an immediate threat to people or livestock. The farmer later said he had a calf attacked by what he believed to be a mountain lion, and so the kill was legally justified for safety….Mtn Lion Foundation

The body of a cougar killed Sunday night in rural Ray County was brought to Missouri Department of Conservation officials in Columbia yesterday for study.

Tammy Pierson, a conservation agent working in Ray County, said the 115-pound male cat was in a tree when it was shot by a livestock farmer. The cougar had been spotted around 8 p.m. Sunday, when it was treed by the farmers’ dogs. When the farmer arrived, he shot the cat in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.

Pierson said the farmer — identified in a department news release as Bob Littleton — reported that three weeks before the cougar was discovered in the tree, a cougar had been responsible for the death of a 425-pound calf that he owned. In Missouri, cougars — also called pumas or mountain lions — are protected animals, but they can be killed if they present a danger to livestock, property, pets or people.

Conservation officials at the Resource Science Center in Columbia, where the cougar was brought for a necropsy, said it appears from the condition of the cougar’s teeth that it was about 2 years old. Testing of the cougar’s DNA and stomach contents could better determine its age and give scientists an idea of where it came from and where it had been.

Officials also said hair samples will be used to confirm whether the cougar is the same one photographed in November in Platte County near the Missouri River.

Jeff Beringer, a research scientist for the Department of Conservation, said it could take as long as a month before the lab results are returned. There was no evidence, such as tags or tattoos, to suggest the cougar had been in captivity.

According to the department, this is the 12th confirmed sighting of a cougar in Missouri since 1994. Although there have been as many as 1,500 reports of possible sightings in that timeframe, Rex Martensen, a field program supervisor for the Department of Conservation, said there must be hard evidence — a photo or carcass — for a sighting to be confirmed.

“The probability of you coming upon a cat would be like winning the lottery,” Martensen said.

The creatures are “very rare” in the state, he said, and the last cougar indigenous to Missouri is believed to have been killed in 1927. In a department news release, Beringer said there was no evidence of cougar reproduction in the state.

In 2003, a vehicle driven by a motorist hit and killed a 105-pound cougar in Callaway County on Highway 54 outside Fulton. At that time, officials told the Tribune that cougar populations in Western states were increasing with the populations of deer and elk and that the cats were making a “comeback” in Missouri.

Martensen said cougars cover large swaths of land as their territory, and younger cats will roam long distances to find a territory they can call their own. In one extreme case, he said, a cougar whose point of origin was South Dakota was found 800 miles away, in Oklahoma. Young cougars must wander long distances to find territory that has not been claimed by older cats, which, conservation officials theorize, is why cougars of that age are being found in Missouri, where there is no established cougar population.

According to the department, cougars rarely hunt for humans, but if a cougar is encountered in the wild, people are advised against running away and encouraged to try to make themselves appear physically larger by raising their arms or opening their jacket. If the cougar displays aggressive behavior, people are advised to respond aggressively, such as throwing nearby objects at the creature.

But, Beringer said, it is more likely that a cougar would be scared off by an approaching human. “These things are not as aggressive as they are portrayed to be,” Beringer said.

Reach Andrew Denney at 573-815-1719 or e-mail akdenney@columbiatribune.com.

bigcatrescue.org

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