Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | December 1, 2017
From Missouri Conservationist: December 2017

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Wildlife Management: Mountain Lion CSI

MDC’s Mountain Lion Response Team uses a variety of science based methods to investigate sightings.

When MDC’s Mountain Lion Response Team receives a sighting report, they get to work.

“We get a lot of reports every year,” said MDC Furbearer Biologist Laura Conlee, a member of the team. “If reports come with a clear photo or some kind of physical evidence — scat, hair, or a fresh track — we can confirm whether the animal was a mountain lion or something else.”

When investigating photos, the team asks to see all the images in the sequence. “We’re looking for the scale of the animal,” Conlee said. “In many cases it’s clearly a housecat, bobcat, or a dog. But if it’s obviously a mountain lion — or if we just can’t tell — we send a member of the team to take a look.”

One technique the team uses is life-sized cutouts of a housecat, a bobcat, and a mountain lion positioned in the spot where the animal appears in the original photo. “This on-site comparison makes it easy to tell which cutout the photographed animal matches,” Conlee said.

If the team finds physical evidence, such as hair, blood, or even a carcass, it collects a DNA sample and sends it to a lab. “The DNA tells us the sex of the animal, where it likely came from, and whether it’s been sampled or detected before,” Conlee said.

Most of the time the lions coming into Missouri are transient, sub-adult males, although a female was documented in 2016. “We’ve never documented breeding within the state,” Conlee said.

Mountain Lion Sightings at a Glance

  • 3,000 Number of sightings reported since 1994
  • Number of sightings confirmed since 1994: 69
  • 0 Number of females with cubs confirmed
  • Black Hills Region of South Dakota Probable source of many mountain lions confirmed in Missouri
  • Mountain lions are protected under the Wildlife Code of Missouri Learn more at

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler