South Dakota: Mountain Lion Exporter

A young mountain lion sits in a cage Thursday outside the Reynolds County Courthouse in Centerville. A Reynolds County commissioner caught the 122-pound cat in a trap meant to catch bobcats. The mountain lion was examined and released back into the wild. AP Photo/Linda Ritter via The Daily American Republic

Wayne Henson had set a trap for bobcats.

But he got more cat than he had hoped. He got a mountain lion.

It’s a big difference.

A Saturday story in the Columbia Daily Tribune tells not only of Henson’s accidental trapping of a mountain lion but also of the increased reports of the animals in the state. Many of those mountain lions are found to have genetic ties to a pride from the Black Hills region of South Dakota. That’s right, South Dakota is apparently a mountain lion exporter.

If 2012 is anything like 2011, Beringer and the department will investigate and confirm the presence of the lions, also known as pumas and cougars, at least once a month.

Since the department began keeping track of mountain lion sightings in 1994, it has confirmed 27 of those reports. Of that number, 14 have been confirmed since Jan. 1, 2011.

“I think there may be a couple of things going on here,” Beringer said. “There are probably more cats showing up, and I think we are better at detecting them.” …

The mountain lions confirmed in Missouri have been traced to prides living in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Beringer said he expects the Reynolds County cat to also show that lineage when DNA testing is complete. The population is growing rapidly there, and young males are pushed out by adults when they reach 16 to 18 months. Cats with radio collars have been known to travel 20 miles a day.

Henson said he’s not so sure there aren’t breeding cats in Missouri, as the number of sightings has increased so much. “They told me it was 2 years old, and it had come down the Missouri River bottoms from South Dakota,” he said, adding that he was skeptical of that theory.

With Yankton being situated along the Missouri River, there are plenty of reports of their presence here. However, very few reports are confirmed by wildlife experts in the state. The most recent “confirmation” that I’m aware of in this area was when a mountain lion was shot and killed near Creighton, Neb., in November. (And who can forget when law enforcement officials shot and killed a mountain lion in Yankton’s city limits in 2004?)

Perhaps many of the mountain lions supposedly seen here are heading for the greener pastures of Missouri. (Notice the mountain lion in this Columbia Daily Tribune story escaped with his life. They are different circumstances for sure, but the two aforementioned cats spotted in this area weren’t so lucky.) Missouri wouldn’t be my first pick for a relocation destination (apologies to my good friend and Missouri native, Travis), but I’m not a mountain lion.

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