Mountain lions are clawing their way back in the Midwest, according to new research. While sightings haven’t been confirmed in the far corner of Southwest Missouri, there have been sightings as close as Springfield and Tulsa, Okla.
Once more common throughout the Midwest and the Ozarks, mountain lions were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The big cats, also called cougars, panthers or pumas, are following natural dispersal instincts, according to a recent article in The Journal of Wildlife Management. It reported 178 mountain lion confirmations in the Midwest and as far south as Texas between 1990 and 2008. Confirmed sightings of mountain lions in the region were sporadic before 1990.
“We (now) know there are a heck of a lot more cougars running around the Midwest than in 1990,” said Clay Nielsen, a Southern Illinois University wildlife ecologist who co-authored the report and heads the nonprofit Cougar Network’s scientific research. “We’ve got an interesting and compelling picture to talk about now.”
The Missouri Department of Conservation logged 14 mountain lion sightings in 2011 and three so far this year.
Rex Martensen is field program supervisor for the Conservation Department and a member of the state’s Mountain Lion Response Team. He said there are several factors contributing to increased numbers of mountain lions in Missouri.
“The habitat in their traditional ranges are becoming more populated,” Martensen said. “The Black Hills of South Dakota is full. The male mountain lions have to leave, seek out territory. Just the dispersal of mountain lions from the Western states is a big reason they’re here.”
He said the ability to detect mountain lions also has increased with affordable, motion-activated trail cameras. There also is better DNA sampling.
View Cougar sightings in Missouri in a larger map