Experts predict a cougar comeback

Mountain lions are leaving the West as their habitats become overpopulated.
Friday, February 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:14 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cougars are listed on Missouri’s endangered and protected species list, but new DNA evidence suggests the cats might be making a comeback. “An increase in trends leads us to believe the population will increase,” said Dave Hamilton, research biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Cougar found in Callaway most likely wild

A preliminary necropsy done on a cougar killed last August in Callaway County indicated it had migrated to central Missouri from the West. DNA tests received last week from Central Michigan University provided more evidence that confirms the cat came from the wild in North America.

“North American mountain lions have the same genetic makeup,” Hamilton said. “South American mountain lions have different genetics, and they are usually the ones kept in captivity.”

Those facts, along with the discovery of a grey squirrel in the Callaway cat’s stomach, have convinced Hamilton that the recent find was a wild mountain lion.

“It doesn’t rule out the possibility that it was a captive cat, but it is unlikely,” he said.

Hamilton said 40 people in Missouri have permits to keep mountain lions captive, but several are held without permits. “People get tired of them and turn them lose,” Hamilton said.

Mountain lions are leaving the West as their habitats become overpopulated.

“As mountain lion populations increase in Texas and other western states, they will migrate,” Hamilton said. He added that Missouri’s habitat is ideal for cougars, although the animal still faces threats from human populations. The last two confirmed cougar sightings were road kill.

Missouri cougar population still low

To date, the Conservation Department has confirmed only seven mountain lion sightings out of the hundreds reported.

“Out of all those calls, 99 percent are dogs,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the Conservation Department has a Mountain Lion Response Team that investigates reported sightings and relays information to the public as soon as possible. He said conservation officials are always concerned about public safety.

“They have been noted to attack people, but it isn’t likely,” Hamilton said. “We have not had reports that livestock have been killed by the mountain lions.”

Hamilton said if a cougar is threatening people, livestock or pets, a landowner has the right to kill the animal.

Eric Kurzejeski, a wildlife research supervisor with the department, said there is no plan to begin restoring mountain lion populations. “We just want people to be aware of the rules related to protecting their property,” he said.

“People’s attitudes have changed, but very few will welcome the mountain lion with open arms,” Hamilton said.

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