Quota of Five Cats Closes Mountain Lion Season

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A mountain lion taken Sunday, Jan. 15 near Grassy Butte officially ended North Dakota's first mountain lion season, as a predetermined quota of five animals was reached.

The conservative season quota of five lions was set by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department as a means to obtain data and insight on the status of mountain lions in the state, without doing irreparable harm to the population.

Three male and two female cats were taken during the experimental season, which opened Sept. 2. All five cats were taken in the northern badlands of western North Dakota. All animals had moderate to high organ fat reserves, indicating they were in very good nutritional condition, said Dorothy Fecske, department furbearer biologist.

"This experimental season has revealed that, while we get reports of mountain lion sightings statewide, there appears to be a higher concentration of animals in western North Dakota," Fecske said. "Also, we now know that there are resident, breeding mountain lions in the state. But as far as how many, it's too soon to estimate."

The first two cats were shot in mid-November during the deer gun season. One was a 99 pound, 1.5-2-year-old male. The other was a 92 pound, 2.5-3-year-old female that had not yet had her first litter.

The third lion, a 4-5-year-old, 140 pound male, was killed on Dec. 31. "This mountain lion is interesting because it probably was a resident male that was holding a territory," Fecske said.

The fourth lion was a two-year-old male and weighed 111 pounds, Fecske said. It was taken Jan. 6.

"It's possible both young males that were harvested were born in North Dakota, but more likely they are immigrants from Montana or South Dakota," she said. "Young males often travel long distances before establishing a territory of their own."

Immigrant animals add to a genetically healthy population, Fecske said, and serve to increase numbers in an establishing population.

The fifth and final lion, a young 39-pound, 4-6-month-old female, was taken Jan. 15 northwest of Grassy Butte. "This animal represents further confirmation that we have resident, breeding females in the state," Fecske said. "We also documented porcupine remains in the gastrointestinal tract of this young lion. Small mammals, like porcupines, can be very important for sustaining lions between kills of their larger prey."

Information gathered from the harvested animals, in conjunction with other data collected by the department, Fecske said, will help the Game and Fish Department better manage mountain lions in the future. "This experimental harvest represents another piece of the puzzle to help us understand the population," she said.