Cougars (also known as cougars, cougars, and many other names) are dwindling ambush predators. Currently, it is believed that approximately 20,000-40,000 of these animals remain in the United States. Some states, such as California, are home to thousands of mountain lions. However, there are no mountain lions in Missouri territory. At least, that’s what official reports about these felines say. Take a look at how things have changed for the Missouri Cougars.
Current Mountain Lion Population in Missouri
Officially, there are zero mountain lions in Missouri. The state’s mountain lions were extinct, meaning they were wiped out, back in the 1920s, and there have been no breeding populations in the state since. Without a breeding population within the state, it’s safe to say that Missouri’s mountain lion population cannot grow.
However, the state’s lack of stable populations doesn’t mean you won’t encounter these animals. Let’s take a look at the steady rise in cougar sightings over the past few years.
Recent sightings in Missouri
Although Missouri has no breeding population of mountain lions, many of these felines have been found in the state. Reports of cougar sightings have steadily increased over the past 20 years. This increase in activity has led some to believe cats are ready to make a comeback.
Since 1994, 86 confirmed reports of mountain lions have been recorded in Missouri. The frequency of these reports has been increasing since the 2010s.
However, seeing cougars in Missouri doesn’t necessarily mean the state is recovering. The vast majority of mountain lions found in Missouri are adult males. That said, the state does not yet have a stable breeding population. So it seems unlikely that the population there will recover, at least for the next few years.
Still, a female cougar was spotted in Missouri in February 2016. Scientists conducted genetic analysis at the scene of a cougar kill and found the feline was female, possibly from another state. The presence of a female mountain lion has revived hope that the felines will one day return to Missouri with a stable population.
Reasons behind the increase in mountain lion sightings
Of the 86 confirmed sightings since 1994, about 75 have occurred since 2010. Judging by that statistic, the Cougars seem likely to put down roots again in Missouri. However, this may not be the case.
There are several possibilities for the increase in cougar sightings. Looking at official sighting lists, it’s clear they’ve become more common in recent years. Some potential reasons for this to happen include:
- Cougars are returning to parts of Missouri, but in so few numbers that they’re barely getting noticed.
- More and more cougars are moving across Missouri in search of territory.
- Technology has begun to capture larger transient populations of cougars that may have existed for some time. Most sightings were captured with game cameras. This technology was uncommon in the early 2000s.
- A combination of two or three of the above points could explain the increase in sightings.
The Missouri Department of Environmental Conservation believes the mountain lions in Missouri are travelers from other states. They travel from nearby states with breeding populations in search of their territory. After all, cougars require a fairly large area to hunt, more than 60 square miles.
Where are the cougars in Missouri?
The Missouri Department of Environmental Conservation keeps detailed records of areas across the state where mountain lions can be seen. Interestingly, sightings are fairly scattered. However, sightings are more common in some parts of the state than others.
Missouri mountain lions are frequent in the southeastern part of the state, along the Current River and south of the Mark Twain National Forest. Another set of sightings exists north of the Ozark Plateau and south of Springfield.
In addition to these areas, sightings were scattered across the state. Although mountain lions still prefer mountainous, wooded areas, they can be seen in almost any ecosystem.
The future of the Missouri Mountain Lions
The increase in the number of mountain lions in Missouri, at least in terms of sightings, could be a sign that this top predator is about to return to the state. In neighboring states such as Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Tennessee, a growing number of sightings suggest the creatures are moving away from their known sustained breeding grounds.
Arkansas, the state that borders Missouri, is believed to be a breeding ground for dozens of cougars. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that mountain lion populations in the area will recover.
The best way to describe the future of the Cougars is its uncertainty. One thing is for sure, though: Cougar sightings are becoming more common.
What should you do if you see a mountain lion?
If you live in Missouri and spot a mountain lion, your best bet is to leave it alone and get out of the area. They avoid humans as much as possible, but cougars are dangerous wild animals.
If you encounter mountain lion, do the following
- Stay calm and don’t make any sudden movements.
- Don’t run, stay away from the animals.
- Give the cougar enough room to escape.
- Don’t take your eyes off the cougar as you walk away.
- Amplify your image by waving your arms or wearing a jacket to make yourself look bigger.
- Do not turn around or bend down to pick up anything. This activates the puma’s predation senses.
If the animal starts to show aggression then:
- Roar at the mountain lion with a loud and determined voice.
- Start throwing anything at the animal to make it turn away.
- If it comes close, be ready for a fight and protect your head and neck from the attack.
- If attacked, fight back with everything you have. Use a stick, rock, knife, or anything you can reach without bending over.
If you’re traveling in an area where sightings have occurred, it’s a good idea to pack bear spray to ward off mountain lions. It’s best if you’ve never hiked alone in their territory.
Report sightings to local authorities and continue to exercise caution the next time outdoor activities resume. The chances of you seeing a mountain lion in Missouri are slim, but it’s best to be prepared for the rare event.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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