Many Investigations, Few Confirmations
Each year the Conservation Department investigates hundreds of mountain-lion sighting reports. Yet, of the thousands of reports we have received since 1994, less than 1 percent have yielded enough physical evidence to clearly confirm the presence of a mountain lion. Dog tracks and dogs themselves are the number one and number two cases of misidentification. Bobcats and house cats — along with coyotes, foxes, and deer — have also been mistaken for mountain lions.
Because mountain lions are reclusive animals, it's hard to know exactly when and where they may be present. Although a reported sighting can be very compelling, we must gather hard evidence before we can say, “Yes, we have a confirmed mountain lion sighting.” To investigate citizen reports, the Department set up the Mountain Lion Response Team in 1996.
No Established Breeding Population — Yet
What do confirmed sightings indicate about the number of mountain lions in Missouri? Jeff Beringer, a Department biologist studying mountain lions, chairs the MDC Mountain Lion Response Team. He feels comfortable saying that Missouri does not have a permanent, self-sustaining breeding population of mountain lions today. “All the evidence indicates that we have a few individuals wandering into Missouri from states that do have established populations.” However, he notes, “The recent uptick in sightings may be a hint of things to come.”
The Mountain Lion Response Team members agree that we could see a female enter the state in coming years. “Nebraska went from having no confirmed mountain lions to a breeding population in ten years,” Beringer said.
This happened because Nebraska lies near the Black Hills, which appears to be a source of dispersing mountain lions. Nebraska’s northwest corner has good habitat for cats, including rugged hills and a suitable mix of woods and prairie, making it easy for nearby females to move into it. Although we typically don’t see female mountain lions traveling long distances to find new habitat, we could eventually see a distant female disperse into our state.
The Wildlife Code protects mountain lions while allowing citizens to protect livestock and human safety.
2006 Conservation Commission Policy Statement: It is not desirable to encourage the re-establishment of a mountain lion population in Missouri. The Department has not and has no plans to stock mountain lions in Missouri.
Slim Chance of a Dangerous Encounter
The return of mountain lions to Missouri is exciting to some, but frightening to others. Because mountain lions have been absent from our state for so long, most Missourians have never seen them and don’t know much about their behavior. Mountain lions are naturally shy of people and seldom cause problems, even in states with thriving populations. The danger of a mountain lion attack is highly unlikely compared to many other familiar dangers we encounter every day. For example, more than 50,000 people die in automobile accidents in the United States each year. Lightning kills another 86 people, and dogs kill 80 more. In contrast, fatal mountain lion attacks have averaged one in every seven years since 1980.
To learn more about mountain lions, where they may be coming from, and what evidence we look for to confirm a sighting, visit the topics below.