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MDC offers safety tips on Mountain Lions

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Since the most recent confirmation of a mountain lion in the state, the Missouri Department of Conservation has provided hints if a lion is encountered.

Though sightings are extremely rare, Missourians who travel to states with thriving cougar populations can benefit from these hints.

According to the department, the chances of encountering a mountain lion in Missouri is very, very small -- almost nonexistent. People, pets and livestock are at much greater risk from automobiles, stray dogs and lightning strikes than they are from mountain lions.

Latest confirmed cat

The department has confirmed the presence of a mountain lion in northern Macon County, based on photos of tracks taken by a landowner.

Rex Martensen, a member of the Conservation Department's Mountain Lion Response Team (MLRT), said the landowner found large, cat-like tracks in a muddy creek bed while hunting mushrooms.

He was near the town of Economy, northeast of Long Branch Lake, on April 20. The man took photos of the tracks and sent them to Private Land Conservationist Ted Seiler.

Rain washed away the tracks before a response team member could visit the site. However, Martensen said the tracks in the photo closely match the characteristics of mountain lion tracks.

He said the team needed no further evidence to confirm the presence of a mountain lion. Martensen said one thing that stood out in the photos was the lack of claw marks.

"Even if a dog has well-worn toenails, as deep as these tracks went into the mud, you would have seen those pretty clear," he said.

Tracking their presence

Martensen said the department is not trying to find the mountain lion that left the tracks.

However, the team wants to know when and where mountain lions appear in Missouri and is particularly interested in reports that involve photos, tracks, hair or other physical evidence.

Evidence from other confirmed mountain lion sightings in the past 20 years suggests that the big cats are coming to Missouri from other states where mountain lion populations have been growing.

Martensen said mountain lions might show up in Missouri with increasing frequency as populations in northwest Nebraska and other western states continue to grow and expand.

Many unanswered questions remain about mountain lions in Missouri.

In an attempt to answer these questions, the department established the response team to review citizen reports thoroughly.

"We don't know what mountain lions do or where they go when they get here," he said, "so pieces of the puzzle like this report are interesting and very helpful to us."

What to do

If encountering a mountain lion in the wild, take the following actions.

These tips also could be useful to Missourians who travel to states with breeding populations of mountain lions.

* Stop. Back away slowly if you can do so safely. Running may stimulate a cougar's instinct to chase and attack. Face the animal, stand upright and maintain eye contact.

* Do not approach a mountain lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions try to avoid confrontations. Give them a way to escape.

* Stay calm. Talk to the cat in a calm, but firm voice.

*Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you're wearing one.

*Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can get your hands on if the cougar behaves aggressively.

* Do not crouch down or turn your back on the mountain lion.

*Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. You want to convince the lion that you are not prey and that you may, in fact, be a danger to it.

*Fight back if a lion attacks. Mountain lions have been driven away by people who fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and bare hands. A sturdy walking stick can be used to ward off a mountain lion.

*Remain standing or try to get back up if you are attacked.

* Go in groups when you walk, hike or bike in states with established mountain lion populations.

*Make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a lion.

* Keep children close and within sight at all times and pick up small children so they won't panic and run.

* Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they see one.

To make a report

For more information about mountain lions in Missouri, visit www.mdc.mo.gov online.

Send mountain lion reports, including photos or video, by e-mail to mountain.lion@mdc.mo.gov or call Jeff Beringer, 573-882-9909, ext. 3211; Rex Martensen, 573-522-4115, ext. 3147; or Shawn Gruber, 573-522-4115, ext. 3262.

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