The reports sometimes are related with a bit of hyperbole, or perhaps around a campfire with the aid of a few fingers of stout branch water.
“I saw a mountain lion down by the old Johnson property, crossing the creek!”
In Missouri, though, those reports are quite common and apparently believable. Officials with the Missouri Department of Conservation say more than 70 reports have them believing the big cats may be reproducing.
If so, that would be the first in about 100 years. Missouri is on the territorial fringe of mountain lion range to the west and north, in the Midwest. It stands to reason that mountain lions moving eastward or south exploring and expanding territory would show up in the Show-Me State.
“We have a running tab of how many have been cited and this recent one was the 72nd reported mountain lion that was confirmed.” AJ Hendershott with the Missouri Department of Conservation told KFVS television.
Of the 72 confirmed sightings of mountain lions in Missouri, the latest was in April 2018. A diseased cow elk was killed by a mountain lion in Shannon County. Genetic DNA testing of evidence of the mountain lion revealed that it was related to a big cat sighted and confirmed in 2012 in another county. This was how the MDC described it:
Track identification and genetic analyses confirmed a cow elk, suspected to be suffering from symptoms of brainworm infection, was killed by a mountain lion. Genetic analyses indicate the individual was a male with a probable population of origin in the Black Hills of Wyoming, South Dakota, and NW Nebraska. Analyses also indicated a genetic match with a male mountain lion that had been incidentally captured by a trapper in January 2012 in Reynolds County, Missouri. This is the first time MDC has detected an individual mountain lion in the state more than once.
Sightings in Arkansas could indicate the big cats are moving around through the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. Sightings the last few years in northwest Tennessee, just across the river from Missouri, are believed to be of a big cat moving along the Mississippi and possibly out of Missouri.
With their secretive nature, though, it’s unknown how many mountain lions are moving through the Midwest into the Southeast. But it would be outright foolishness to say they’re not, given the size of the animals and how much territory they need when they establish a home range. An adult male’s home range is typically more than 100 square miles; females generally use smaller areas, approximately 20 to 60 square miles. They can be found from south Florida west to the southern Arizona deserts, north to the Rockies and then east into the thick woods of the Upper Midwest and Northeast.
Common? Seen often and confirmed? Not in all areas. But the next time someone says they saw a mountain lion — long tail, long body, tawny, head like a cat — maybe don’t dismiss them outright.
If they say it’s a “black panther,” though, well, try to not giggle.
Featured image: Missouri Department of Conservation