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Here’s why Missouri is seeing more mountain lions across the state

A mountain lion lying down
Missouri Department of Conservation
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) recently received DNA results from a confirmed mountain lion in Shannon County back in January 2017.

Mountain lions are rare in Missouri, but sightings of the big cat are increasing. Conservationists believe this is a sign of a healthier environment in the region.

The big predator was wiped out in Missouri in 1927. However, the Missouri Department of Conservation confirms five to ten sightings each year of mountain lions wandering into the area from western states.

But in the first month of 2023, there were four sightings. Most recently, a 150-pound male cat was hit by a vehicle in Franklin County.

There is no evidence of a breeding population and no plans to reestablish a population here, according to the Conservation Department, but that does not mean it might not happen in the future.

“It's an exciting time to be here in Missouri,” said Nathan Bowersock, a large mammal biologist with the Conservation Department. “Seeing that mountain lion shows that conditions may be right for the cats to reestablish themselves on their own.”

More sightings of mountain lions could be a consequence of people buying trail cameras to monitor their homes or favorite hunting spots, Bowersock said, but most sightings turn out to be false in Missouri.

“The fact that we're seeing regular activity each year is suggestive that more animals are at least passing through the state as they move from the west,” he said.

Mountain lions can travel more than 800 miles from their original homes. DNA suggests most mountain lions are coming from western portions of the Dakotas and Nebraska, Bowersock said.

Mountain lions are territorial. So, when young males get to a certain age, they are forced to move out of an area to find deer, the big cat’s primary food source.

“We have abundant deer herd populations here in Missouri, so conditions are definitely in a good spot for them to reestablish themselves naturally,” Bowersock said.

Ultimately, more mountain lions show conservationists are doing a good job at taking care of the landscape and conserving wildlife.

Bowersock said it is important to report any sightings directly to the conservation department. “The more places we can assess where there are sightings occurring, it could better prepare us for if we do eventually have an established population,” he said.

You can submit photos or videos of mountain lions to mountain.lion@mdc.mo.gov.

Britny Cordera is a poet and journalist based in St. Louis and is currently serving as a newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio.

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