Mountain lion sightings reported

Friday, November 2, 2007

NEW HAVEN, Mo. -- Mountain lions, once common in Missouri, have been mostly gone from the state for 80 years. But some Franklin County residents think they're making a comeback.

The Washington Missourian newspaper has received four separate reports of sightings of a large predatory cat -- perhaps a mountain lion -- all in the same area of the eastern Missouri county.

Amanda Gildehaus, 22, of New Haven, said she saw a cat about the size of a Labrador retriever Sept. 19.

The Missouri Conservation Department said mountain lions -- also called cougars, pumas, panthers or catamounts -- were common in the state until the 19th century, when settlers killed them as well as most of the state's deer. Deer were the primary food source for the mountain lions.

The last native wild mountain lion in Missouri was killed in 1927. And despite the reports to the newspaper, Franklin County conservation agent Todd Wright said there have been no confirmed mountain lion sightings in recent years, though he gets eight to 12 calls per year about possible sightings.

"It usually turns out to be a large dog or deer," Wright said.

Mountain lions are comparable in height to a German shepherd, Wright said. They are between 90 and 150 pounds, 5 to 8 1/2 feet long with a 3-foot-long tail. They are reddish-tan.

The animals are nocturnal and elusive -- they try to avoid people, Wright said.

The Conservation Department formed a Mountain Lion Response Team in 1996 to investigate sightings, respond to calls and collect and analyze physical evidence.

There have been eight confirmed sightings in Missouri since 1994. One was hit by a car near downtown Kansas City in 2002, another near Fulton a year later.

Dan Roewe, who operates a farm in Franklin County, wonders if it was a mountain lion that attacked some of his cattle.

"One night it stormed," Roewe said. "The next day my bull was cut up pretty good on its back near the tail and the rear flank."

"Something got hold of him, but I'm not sure what it is." And Roewe said several cows had scratches.

Wright said, "There are probably a few mountain lions in the state, but there's not a breeding population. If we do have mountain lions in the state, they are probably juvenile males looking for territory."

Mountain lions are protected by the state and are not game animals.


Information from: Washington Missourian, http://www.emissourian.com.

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