Mountain Lions In Missouri

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

One hot wildlife question being debated in coffee shops, sporting goods stores and Internet chat sites across Missouri goes something like this: “Do we have mountain lions here or not?” The short answer is yes, sometimes. But we have far fewer than rumors would lead you to believe.

What we do not have is any evidence of a viable, breeding population of mountain lions in Missouri. As a result, the Missouri Department of Conservation has changed the state classification of the species from endangered to extirpated. An extirpated species is one that is considered extinct as a viable breeding population from a portion of its historical range.

The Conservation Commission has determined that, based on considerations of human safety and risk to livestock, it is undesirable to have a breeding population of mountain lions in Missouri. Therefore, the Department of Conservation will not encourage the species to reestablish itself in the state. Despite rumors, the Department has never stocked mountain lions and will not do so in the future.

Once there were lions

Although mountain lions, sometimes called cougars, pumas, panthers or catamounts, were common in Missouri and elsewhere in the Midwest prior to European settlement, they were eradicated during the 19th century. As the countryside was settled and developed, the large predators were shot. People also killed almost all of the deer, the mountain lions’ primary food source.

The last native wild mountain lion in Missouri was killed in 1927. They were extirpated from Iowa by 1867, Nebraska by 1890, Kansas by 1904 and from Wisconsin by 1908. Though populations of mountain lions survived in remote mountainous terrain in western states, no verifiable evidence exists to suggest that they survived anywhere in the Midwest, outside of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

However, many Missourians probably know someone who claims to have seen a mountain lion recently. Or, they’ve heard rumors of mountain lion sightings offered as proof that the species has reclaimed old habitats, or never really disappeared. Hundreds of eyewitness accounts, second-hand testimony and other stories circulate in communities across Missouri, causing lots of discussion and concern. In the search for evidence, however, it is important to distinguish between a reported sighting and a “confirmed” mountain lion report.

The lion trackers

The Mountain Lion Response Team was formed in 1996 to investigate sightings, respond to calls and collect and analyze physical evidence of the presence of mountain lions in Missouri. We provide information and training to

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