Biologists used GPS to track mountain lion in western Kansas

06/25/2010 5:56 AM

06/25/2010 5:56 AM

HERINGTON — A mountain lion from Colorado took a quick stroll through Kansas this spring, basically covering the state from north to south in March.

It is the third confirmed mountain lion in Kansas in the past 106 years, and all three instances have occurred since 2007.

One was shot in Barber County in 2007 and the other was photographed by an archery deer hunter in Trego County last fall.

Thursday in Herington, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks biologist Matt Peek told the Wildlife and Parks Commission about the third mountain lion.

The young male, weighing about 90 pounds, had been trapped and collared by Colorado game officials and released near Estes Park on Oct. 20 of last year.

The cat's GPS-collar transmits its location every three hours. Biologists download the information about once a month.

Peek said Colorado authorities alerted Wildlife and Parks officials here when it appeared the cat was headed into Kansas. Wildlife and Parks officials didn't know the cat's location when it was in the state.

Several biologists, including Peek, later checked sites where several GPS coordinates were transmitted from a small area in western Kansas.

Peek said while the mountain lion spent some time along river bottoms, it spent much of its time trekking southward across agricultural and ranching areas with little traditional wildlife habitat. The cats are known to be reclusive and contact with humans is rare.

It appears the cat entered Kansas in Cheyenne County — in the northwest corner of the state — and stayed within the western two tiers of counties. It was in Kansas from March 5-25.

Peek said that about 30 percent of the time when the mountain lion was stopped, it was around some sort of structure, such as abandoned or inhabited houses.

"As you drive across places in western Kansas, if you were looking for cover, that's where you'd have went,'' Peek said.

Peek said he talked with one Morton County homeowner who produced a clear photo of a track near her home. She said she never felt threatened.

Though it was near livestock several times, biologists found no evidence that the mountain lion had attacked any.

Evidence indicated the mountain lion fed on house cats, raccoons, porcupines and a deer while in Kansas. In Colorado, it ate several coyotes, large birds and midsize mammals, but not deer.

Since leaving Kansas, the mountain lion traveled back to Colorado and then through Oklahoma and Texas before heading into New Mexico. Colorado biologist says it probably has traveled more than 1,000 miles.

Through the years, Peek and other Kansas biologists have traveled even farther while investigating possible sightings or signs of mountain lions. Reports of big cats in Kansas have been made since the last one was killed in the western part of the state in 1904, but none was confirmed until 2007.

"It was nice putting a foot on ground where we knew one had been in the past couple of weeks," Peek said.

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