This powerful predator roams the Americas, where it is also known as a Cougar, Puma, Mountain Cat, Panther and Catamount. This big cat of many names is also found in many habitats, from Florida swamps to Canadian forests. They can weigh up to 200lbs, and live 12-15 years successfully in the wild.
Mountain lions prefer to prey on deer, though they also eat smaller animals such as coyotes, porcupines, and raccoons. They usually hunt at night or right at dawn and dusk. These cats employ a blend of stealth and power, stalking their prey until an opportunity arrives to pounce, then going for the back of the neck with a fatal bite. They will hide large carcasses and feed on them for several days.
These cats are not very good at sharing, especially when it comes to what they consider to be ‘their territory’. Partially because of this, mountain lions roam far, far away from where they were born as soon as Mom kicks them out of the home den. They are extremely solitary animals and can claim up to 400 square miles as their territory for just ONE big cat.
Technically mountain lions can mate anytime they want, but generally they do so late in the year, December though March. Kittens live with Mom for up to two years, which is a VERY long time in comparison to most other wild mammals. Kittens learn to hunt, forage, fight, and survive during the time that they are with their mothers. Eventually, she decides that they can make it on their own and she goes off to mate again, leaving the older kittens to fend for themselves as adults.
Missouri’s History with the Mountain Lion
As early European settlers colonized North America, large predators like bears, wolves, and mountain lions were seen as a direct threat to ranching and competition for resources. The extensive killing of deer (a mountain lion’s primary prey) by people for food and for sport, significantly reduced the amount of deer available for native carnivores. Some species of deer were even driven to extinction by hunters in eastern states. This lack of food, combined with the direct killing of lions, resulted in hunters eliminating mountain lions from most states east of the Rockies by the early 1900’s. Missouri killed its last indigenous lion in 1927.
Although mountain lions were wiped out by the 1920’s, the species was eventually placed on the states endangered species list and protected (should any cats happen to turn up) in Missouri. Lions were gone for nearly seventy years. Eventually some dispersing individuals wandered over from western states. From 1994 through 2005, there were five cases of confirmed mountain lion presence (photographs, tracks, and/or DNA evidence) in Missouri, and three lions were killed by residents.
Then in 2006, based on unfounded concerns* from cattle ranchers, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Commission announced it was “…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.” This decision removed the mountain lion from the states endangered species list and reclassified it as “extirpated,” meaning extinct (or no local breeding population) in a particular area.
Because of the irrational fear of what could happen and misinformation about the species, the mountain lion is no longer protected in Missouri.
* According to the MDC website, “The prospect of increasing mountain lion populations in Missouri causes a feeling of alarm for some folks. They cite the quickly growing bobcat population in the Midwest and are concerned that mountain lions could do the same thing if left unchecked. Missouri annually ranks among the top states for the number of cattle raised, and the potential presence of mountain lions causes much concern among producers. There have been no reports of mountain lions attacking people in Missouri, and no evidence of attacks on livestock or pets.”
The MDC Code technically prohibits the hunting or random killing of any lion that wanders into the state. The law only allows people to kill lions that are attacking people or domestic animals. MDC Code 3 CSR 10-4.130 (6) states, “Mountain lions attacking or killing livestock or domestic animals, or attacking human beings, may be killed without prior permission, but the kill must be reported immediately to an agent of the department and the intact mountain lion carcass, including pelt, must be surrendered to the agent within twenty-four (24) hours.”
However, because they do not want a lion population in Missouri, since 2006 the MDC has not prosecuted any of the hunters who have treed and shot lions for sport.
Missouri Mountain Lion Sightings
Since 1994, mountain lion sightings have begun popping up around the state. While some may have been released pets (nearly thirty Missourians have permits to legally keep lions in captivity), research shows others likely dispersed from known populations in the West where their habitat is shrinking.
Young lions naturally have an instinct to disperse. Some will travel hundreds of miles to find available and suitable habitat, and to get away from lions they are closely related to. They may be following the Missouri River corridor and coming down from South Dakota. Other research suggests they could be coming up from parts of southwest Texas. Either way, each lion will continue to wander until it finds a mate. Since there is no evidence of lions breeding in Missouri, it is likely these lions are just passing through. If enough make it into the state, they could potentially settle and establish a local population.
Sightings Confirmed by the Missouri Dept. of Conservation Mountain Lion Response Team
January 2012 Reynolds County
Citizen took photograph of a mountain lion with a motion-activated game camera. Possibly the same mountain lion was later caught in Reynolds county in a large, cage-type trap. The large male lion was sedated, weighed, and examined. The Mountain Lion Response Team collected DNA samples and determined that the animal was about 2 years old with no signs of being held in captivity (not a pet). It was later released in Reynolds County in a conservation area.
May 2011 Macon County
Citizen sent photos of tracks in a muddy creek bed. The Department’s Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the tracks to be those of a mountain lion.
March 2011 Oregon County
Citizen reported observing a mountain lion jump a fence. DNA analysis of hairs collected at the scene confirmed species; ancestry analysis is underway.
January 2011 Macon County
Subadult male shot by coyote hunters. No obvious signs of confinement. DNA analysis is pending.
January 2011 St. Louis County
Photo of probable subadult disperser taken by motion-activated game camera.
January 2011 Ray County
Subadult male treed and shot by raccoon hunters. No obvious signs of confinement. DNA analysis pending. Story: Landowner Bob Littleton lied, saying he shot the lion because it had killed his cattle. Later he confessed a friend, James McElwee, who was hunting raccoons nearby had actually shot the lion out of a tree, and there had been no attacks on livestock. Despite no immediate threat or danger, and lying about the incident to officials, neither men were prosecuted by MDC.
Photo of probable subadult disperser taken by motion-activated game camera.
November 2010 Platte County
Photo of probably subadult disperser taken by landowner. DNA analysis of hairs collected at the scene is pending.
December 2006 Livingston County
A photograph of a probable subadult was taken by a motion-activated game camera.
November 2006 Shannon County
Tracks and deer carcass characteristic of a mountain lion kill were found.
August 2003 Callaway County
An approximately 1 1/2-year-old male road kill. There were no obvious signs that it was formerly a captive animal. DNA analysis revealed its origin to be North America.
October 2002 Clay County
December 2001 Pulaski County
A photograph was taken by a motion-activated game camera. After a lengthy evaluation, it was determined that it was likely a small, subadult mountain lion.
December 2000 Lewis County
A video was taken by a deer hunter from a tree stand.
January 1999 Texas County
An adult-sized lion was treed by a rabbit hunters dogs. Tracks in the snow (photos taken) and two deer carcasses characteristic of lion kills were found nearby.
January 1997 Christian County
A video was taken by a property owner. The animals behavior suggested it had once been held in captivity.
November 1996 Reynolds County
A conservation agent video-recorded a mountain lion with a deer carcass.
December 1994 Carter County
A small adult female was treed and shot by two raccoon hunters near Peck Ranch Conservation Area. The carcass was never recovered, but a photo was obtained of the animal on a truck tailgate. Federal authorities fined each hunter $2,000. In Nov. 1998, a deer hunter found the skinned pelt of a small adult, a female, with head and feet attached, near a remote Texas County road. Although evidence suggests this is the same animal killed in Carter County, it cannot be confirmed absolutely.
On February 2, 2012 a state senator introduced legislation clarifying that anyone in Missouri may kill a mountain lion.
Republican Sen. Bill Stouffer, of Napton, offered the proposal Thursday February 2, 2012. His bill would require anyone who kills a mountain lion to report immediately to a state conservation agent and surrender the body within 24 hours. Missouri statutes are currently silent on the killing of mountain lions.
We understand that this animal can be extremely dangerous, but we also know for a fact that they are incredibly shy, and they do not approach people or pets if they can avoid it. Livestock is an issue, however we wonder if it is as large of an issue as is claimed. There is a wonderful website that helps people determine exactly what predator might have attacked their livestock and it can be extremely helpful. If you diagree with the current proposal to kill mountain lions, please sign the petition currently available on Change.org and share it on your Facebook wall and Twitter accounts as well.
The chance of having a dangerous encounter with 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, these responses may improve your chances of avoidance and survival.
- STOP. Back away slowly if you can do so safely. Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the mountain lion, stand upright and maintain eye contact.
- DO NOT APPROACH A MOUNTAIN LION, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. 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 mountain 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 mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may, in fact, be a danger to it.
- FIGHT BACK if a mountain 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.
When you walk, hike or bike in states with an established mountain lion population, GO IN GROUPS and MAKE PLENTY OF NOISE to reduce your chances of surprising a mountain lion. A sturdy walking stick can be used to ward off a mountain lion. Make sure children are close and within sight at all times. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they see one.
Bobcats, Coyotes, and Mountain Lions that become used to human presence can lose their natural wariness of us. If we offer or allow access to food even once, we end up with wildlife that associates us with food. Although the risk of encountering mountain lions is very low, take steps to prevent problems with wildcats and encourage your neighbors to follow the same steps.
Landscape for safety. Remove dense or low-lying vegetation that provides hiding places for mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and other predators near your house. Choose plants that do not attract deer or other prey. Appropriate fencing will make your yard or play area uninviting to prey animals such as deer.
Consider other deterrents. Outdoor lighting, motion sensors and electric fencing may deter prey animals and large cats from entering your yard and make approaching animals more visible to you.
Drive safely. Obey speed limits and reduce your speed in wildlife areas. Be extra alert during dawn, dusk and at night.
Don’t litter. Human food attracts wildlife and litter thrown from a car attracts wildlife to roadsides.
Be alert from dusk until dawn (and whenever deer are active). Mountain lions are primarily active at night. Be aware of your surroundings and supervise children when outdoors in areas where wild cats live.
Keep prey away. Deer, raccoons, rabbits, armadillos and feral hogs are prey for large cats. By feeding deer or other wildlife, people inadvertently may attract carnivores. Do not leave potential wildlife food outside, such as unsecured garbage or pet food. Consider fencing fruit and vegetable gardens.
Keep pets safe. Free-roaming, tethered or unfenced pets and hobby livestock are easy prey for predators. In some communities, it is illegal to let pets roam free. Bring pets inside or keep them in a secure, enclosed kennel at night. Feeding pets outside can attract raccoons and other prey; do not leave uneaten pet food available to wildlife.
Keep domestic livestock safe. Place chickens, goats, sheep, hogs or other livestock in enclosed structures at night. Plans for building predator-proof enclosures for pets or livestock are available at theMountain Lion Foundation. In addition, electric fencing can be an effective carnivore deterrent.