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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Mountain lion younger than first thought

Thursday, August 28, 2003

A detailed examination of a mountain lion killed near

Fulton last week showed the animal was younger than

first thought. Biologists learned what the big cat had

eaten recently, and they took tissue samples for DNA


The 105-pound mountain lion (also known as a

cougar) died when it was struck by an automobile on

Highway 54 shortly before midnight Aug. 11. Wildlife

biologists, a veterinarian and a taxidermist gathered at

the Missouri Department of Conservation's Resource

Science Center in Columbia Aug. 13 to perform a

necropsy -- the veterinary equivalent of an autopsy -- on

the animal's carcass.

Conservation Department Resource Scientist Dave

Hamilton said a thorough external examination showed

that the big cat still had dark spots on its flanks and

hindquarters, and barring on the inside of its front legs.

"Those markings are very prominent on kittens, and

they fade slowly as the animal matures," said Hamilton.

"They disappear entirely by the age of 3. Judging by this

animal's appearance, we think it was between a year

and a year and a half old."

Ticks from the mountain lion's skin have been sent to a

laboratory for identification. If any of these are not

indigenous to Missouri, they could provide clues about

where the cat came from.

Investigators also conducted an internal examination

and concluded that the mountain lion died instantly.

Hamilton said the impact separated several of its neck

bones and broke both front legs.

The mountain lion seemed to have been in good health

before the accident. Hamilton said it had ample fat

deposits around its internal organs. It wasn't fat,

however, as many captive animals are. The teeth were

clean. Captive animals sometimes have plaque

deposits on their teeth and gums from eating

commercially prepared food.

Investigators found a gray squirrel in the cat's stomach.

The squirrel carcass carried numerous fly eggs,

indicating the animal had been dead some time before

it was eaten. In the lower intestines, they found hair,

which also has been sent to a lab for identification.

Hamilton said the necropsy didn't answer the question

of whether the mountain lion was strictly wild or if it

might have been kept in captivity at one time. "It showed

no signs of captivity. That's about all we can say."

Researchers took tissue samples for DNA testing. This

will determine whether the mountain lion is more

closely related to North American mountain lions or to

those from South America. Most captive mountain lions

come from South American stock.

The mountain lion's pelt will be mounted for display at

a nature center.

Mountain lions were believed to be extirpated from

Missouri in 1927, when the last known individual was

killed in the state's Bootheel region. The Callaway

County mountain lion is the seventh verified sighting in

recent years.

The first recent sighting was in 1994, when a man shot

a small adult female cougar in Carter County. There is

considerable evidence that this was the same animal

whose pelt turned up in Texas County four years later.

Mountain lions were video-taped in Reynolds County in

1996, in Christian County in 1997 and in Lewis County

in 2000. In 1999 a rabbit hunter saw a mountain lion in

Texas County, and the discovery of fresh cougar kills

nearby confirmed the sighting. The sixth sighting came

last October when a motorist killed a cougar in Clay


The increasing incidence of mountain lion sightings in

Missouri parallels neighboring states' experience.

Mountain lions used to be rare in South Dakota, but

they have a well-established population there today.

Nebraska is seeing them more often, and there have

been verified sightings in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Hamilton said Missouri almost certainly has a small

population of mountain lions, "a handful." It is

impossible to know whether these have migrated into

Missouri, which he considers the most likely case, if

they are escaped or released captive cougars or if they

are descended from native Missouri stock that survived

for decades undetected.

So far, said Hamilton, the Conservation Department

hasn't seen evidence of cougar reproduction in

Missouri, but he said this probably is only a matter of


Hamilton said the Conservation Department isn't

stocking mountain lions and isn't doing anything to

encourage the species' return to Missouri. He said their

resurgence is partly a result of Missouri's success in

restoring deer, which are cougars' primary food.

Mountain lions are classified as endangered in

Missouri, so they are protected by law. However, it is

legal to kill mountain lions or other wildlife that threaten

people, livestock or pets.

Cougars sometimes attack pets or livestock, but

attacks on people are rare. They are shy of humans

and normally stay away from areas frequented by

people. Missourians who think they see mountain lions

are encouraged to contact the nearest conservation

agent or Conservation Department office. The agency's

Mountain Lion Response Team investigates every


"It's natural for people to wonder if they should be afraid

for their children or themselves, now that we have seen

several mountain lions here," said Hamilton. "I try to

encourage them to keep their worries in perspective.

More people are killed by bee stings every year in the

United States than have been killed by mountain lions

in the past 100 years. Your chances of being struck by

lightning are better, and children are much, much more

likely to be attacked by someone's pet dog than by a

mountain lion. We shouldn't let those worries keep us


Experts say that mountain lions are ambush predators

and avoid fights. The best way to avoid attack if you

encounter a mountain lion is to appear large and

threatening. Standing tall, raising a shirt or jacket over

your head with your arms, talking firmly in a loud voice

and throwing objects all can help deter an attack. Don't

lean over or turn your back on a threatening cougar.

If attacked, fight back. People have stopped mountain

lion attacks by hitting them in the face, stabbing them

with sharp objects and gouging their eyes.

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