Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Top Predator Part III

Mountain Lion - MDC
Springfield News Leader reported that a mountain lion was sighted on a game camera around Branson.  This report adds one more to a slowly growing list that suggests that a few may be moving back to Missouri or else there are more of us out looking at nature and rigging up game cameras.

The range of the mountain lion was originally as wide as its aliases (cougar, panther, puma, catamount), extending from Alaska through South America.  As civilization (more or less) expanded across the Midwest, bison were extirpated and other game decreased, their range contracted northward, centering around the Rockies. 

From 1870 through the turn of the century, Silas Turnbo collected and published over 800 stories which he recorded from the Southern Missouri Ozarks.  This collection included 151 stories which mentioned panther and another 24 about "catamount", an alternate name for mountain lion.  Dramatic descriptions of chasing mail carriers, threatening babies in their mother's arms and even running through the house.

With their "lone wolf" habits and far greater range it isn't surprising that we occasionally find a panther in Missouri.  Unlike wolves which generally live together and hunt in packs, these wanderers, usually young males, cover much more territory.

Panther prowling in Branson area- MDC
Since 1994 there have been 34 sightings, most of them captured by game cameras including the last sighting outside Branson last week.  A game camera caught this cat on the prowl.

Some of the mountain lion reports may come from escaped captive specimens.  According to the Missouri Department of Conservation's Mountain Lion Facts:
Sightings since 19
"About twenty Missourians have a permit to hold mountain lions in captivity, and an unknown number of people hold them illegally. Captive mountain lions are also common in neighboring states. These animals sometimes escape or are released intentionally, and it is likely they can survive in the wild on abundant deer and furbearer populations."

Given the loss of habitat due to urbanization, it is unlikely that the mountain lion will return to the top cat role of apex predator.  However when it walks through a coyote's territory it probably becomes the "apex predator of the day."

John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.
Missouri is not alone in unexpected cougar sightings.  There have been 178 confirmed sightings in Mid-America, extending from Texas to Southern Canada as reported by Michelle A. LaRue and colleagues.   Natural History Magazine

This story is from Carl Haworth a few weeks ago:
Click to enlarge.
Friends were deer hunting around Bradleyville during youth season and got two deer which they hung up on a tree.  The next morning they went down in time to see a mountain lion dragging the smaller one away.  They didn't argue with it and didn't have a camera.  The did however get a picture later of a paw print which they describes as being "as big as your hand with the fingers spread out wide".

Now the expert's opinion:  "The presence of claws and the arrangement of the toes definitely say “canine.”   -James Dixon, MDC   
The MDC has some good information comparing signs of cougar, bobcat and dogs at this site.  Look it up and compare the print for yourself. 
The history of Mountain Lions along the Arkansas-Missouri border is at this University of Arkansas paper.

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