Before 2007, Kansas went more than 100 years without a confirmed sighting of a wild mountain lion in the state.
Now it has had 14 confirmations since one was killed by a Barber County landowner in 2007, and five within the past few months.
The discovery of a dead mountain lion near Dodge City last week makes five confirmations in Kansas since early August, according to Matt Peek, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism furbearer biologist.
The previous four confirmations this year have been made through trail camera photos, sightings and videos. Friday’s find is the first time the department has put its hands on a Kansas mountain lion carcass since the first confirmation in 2007.
Peek said Aaron Baugh, a Wildlife and Parks biologist in southwest Kansas, was contacted by a landowner near Dodge City who had found a dead mountain lion in a shed, its head stuck amid the blades of a tiller.
The cat’s physical condition, Peek said, probably had more to do with its death than getting tangled with idle machinery.
“You can see it was obviously in a very poor physical condition, and that was probably the biggest factor in its death,” said Peek, referring to photos of the dead animal, with many ribs and other bones clearly visible beneath its hide.
“In fact, there were no signs of struggle like it tried to free itself. Had it been a healthy cat restrained like that, there’d have been all kinds of struggle.”
Peek said the landowner had been in the shed a few days before and hadn’t noticed the big cat lying on the open floor. While its length was what he said he would expect from a young mountain lion, its weight was not.
“It maybe weighed 45 pounds,” said Peek, who drove to Dodge City and picked up the frozen carcass earlier this week. “If it had been healthy, I’d guess it easily should have weighed twice as much.”
Peek plans a necropsy for the carcass later this week. Because it was frozen when he took possession, he’s not sure whether it’s a male or female.
He said there are many things that could have led to its death.
“It could have gotten a broken jaw (and not been able to eat) from a kick by a deer or gotten hit by a car,” he said. “Most of them end up eating porcupines, and even though they’re good at it, some get a mouthful of quills, and that causes problems.”
Mountain lions, he said, also can die from diseases like distemper or the plague.
Four photos of mountain lions, confirmed by the department and shot on trail cameras, since early August show healthy looking cats. Peek said it’s possible at least some of the cats caught on camera are the same animal.
“We’re kind of thinking a couple of those (confirmations) were probably the same cat,” said Peek. “That’s based on the timing and the location. It appeared to be moving in a common direction.”
The first photo of the year came Aug. 3 in Rooks County in northwest Kansas. The second, about two weeks later, was about 40 miles away in Ellis County, near Hays.
Peek said the third photo was also about two weeks later in Barton County, near Great Bend. He said the travel distance, and southeast trajectory, makes it seem as if it could be the same mountain lion.
The fourth confirmation came from a Sumner County trail camera on Sept. 20 and could have matched the other three documentations in terms of timing and direction of travel.
According to Peek and other biologists, Kansas is just one of many states to have increased mountain lion confirmations over about the past decade. It’s thought many of the cats have wandered east from the Black Hills or an area of the Rocky Mountains where the populations are at capacity.
Most of those cats have been found to be young males; that includes one with South Dakota DNA that was killed on a highway in Connecticut in 2011. Such animals are usually run out of traditional habitat by older male mountain lions.
Even with the rash of documentations over the past few months, Peek said, he still thinks any wild mountain lions in Kansas are probably passing through, looking for better habitat. People, livestock and pets, he said, are probably in no serious danger of a mountain lion attack.
“We know we’ve had a few passing through the state for about 10 years,” he said. “Just because we get a cluster of reports doesn’t mean people need to start worrying about anything.”
Reach Michael Pearce at 316-268-6382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.