In late November a Platte County resident photographed a mountain lion in a tree; then in early January a mountain lion was killed in Ray County by a raccoon hunter. On January 19, MDC staff confirmed a trail camera photo of a mountain lion in West St. Louis County; on January 22 a mountain lion was killed by hunters in Macon County; then on February 16 MDC staff confirmed a trail camera photo of a mountain lion in southern Linn County. These five recent events have opened the floodgates of public inquiry and have Missourians wondering about the true population status of these large cats, why the recent increase in occurrences and how the Wildlife Code addresses mountain lions.
Missouri’s Wildlife Code has always offered mountain lions protection from indiscriminate killing. In 2006, with citizen input, the Department changed the code language to allow citizens a level of assurance that a mountain lion could be killed if it posed a threat to human safety. Additionally the Department has never considered nor has plans to reestablish mountain lions in the state.
Both of the recent mountain lion killings were thoroughly investigated by conservation agents and, based on the details of their findings, it was determined that a reasonable level of threat was demonstrated and charges were not warranted in either case. In a 1994 case, when a mountain lion was shot with no justifiable reason, the hunters were prosecuted and fined. Each situation must be investigated and reviewed on a case-by-case basis and evaluated on its own merit. The Department does not condone the indiscriminate shooting of mountain lions. However, we do acknowledge that landowners, and the public at large, must be afforded the right to protect themselves and their property/livestock under certain circumstances.
Missouri’s mountain lion population was extirpated by the early 1900s as a result of unrestricted harvest, enormous habitat changes and increased human presence across the state. Our first confirmed reappearance of a mountain lion took place in 1994 and since that time, including the five most recent events, our total number of confirmed mountain lions in Missouri stands at 15. These low confirmation numbers are in no way indicative of a population, but they do demonstrate that mountain lions occasionally show up in the state.
Exactly where these individual cats are coming from can be hard to determine. Although we do know that mountain lion populations in other states such as Texas, Colorado and South Dakota are growing and young males are dispersing. The most compelling and supportive evidence of this dispersal is demonstrated in the neighboring state of Nebraska. Recent confirmed sightings in Nebraska have increased from five in 2004 to more than 30 in 2010. Most of these sightings are near a small but verified breeding population in the northwest part of Nebraska. However, a dozen of those sightings are in the central and eastern part of that state. This is strong evidence that young male mountain lions may be dispersing into Missouri from sources such as Nebraska or South Dakota, and it is almost certain that others will continue to find their way to our state.
The Department responds to reports of mountain lions and investigates sightings that have evidence such as photographs, video, tracks, etc., in an attempt to record the presence of these cats in Missouri. We share the results of these investigations with the public through our news releases, website and other media formats.
The Conservation Department must constantly evaluate current policies and laws. We must continue to learn and educate others about relevant conservation issues and the mountain lion is no exception. We will continue to monitor the occurrences of these big cats in our state and evaluate our current positions, policies and regulations in a manner that benefits both the resource and all citizens of this state.
For more information about mountain lions, visit our website at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/3505.
IF YOU ENCOUNTER A MOUNTAIN LION
The chance of encountering a mountain lion in Missouri is very, very small—almost nonexistent. People, pets and livestock are at much greater risk from automobiles, stray dogs and lightning strikes than they are from mountain lions. However, if you do encounter a mountain lion in the wild, follow these safety tips.
- STOP. Back away slowly if you can do so safely. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion, stand upright and maintain eye contact.
- DO NOT APPROACH A MOUNTAIN LION, especially one that is feeding. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
- STAY CALM. Talk to it in a calm yet firm voice.
- DO ALL YOU CAN TO APPEAR LARGER. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run.
- If the lion behaves aggressively, THROW STONES, BRANCHES OR WHATEVER YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. You want to convince the lion that you are not prey and that you may, in fact, be a danger to it.
- FIGHT BACK if a lion attacks. Mountain lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and bare hands. Remain standing or try to get back up.