Kansas City Cougar Was Probably Wild

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A mountain lion killed by a motorist in Kansas City area last fall probably came from a Western state. That's the conclusion of Wildlife Research Biologist Dave Hamilton, the Conservation Department's furbearer specialist.

The 2 1/2- to 3-year-old male cougar died after being stuck by a car while crossing I-35 near Parvin Road at 1:45 a.m. Oct. 14. It weighed 125 pounds and measured more than 7 feet from nose to tip of tail.

At the time, Hamilton noted the lack of unusual wear on the cat's claws and paw pads. Such wear is normally seen in captive animals that have been kept in concrete-floored enclosures. This, together with the lack of tattoos, tags or other signs of captivity, led Hamilton to speculate that the cougar might have been a wild specimen that wandered here from another state. He reserved judgment, however, until receiving test results on the animal's DNA and stomach contents.

The DNA tests showed it was a North American cougar. This is significant, since many captive mountain lions come from South American stock. "The stomach contents included white-tailed deer and raccoon," said Hamilton, "so it probably was feeding in the wild, rather than being fed by humans. There was no tartar buildup on ts teeth, and it wasn't obese, which are other telltale signs of a captive lifestyle. Judging by all these things, I think it's pretty likely this animal wandered into Missouri from somewhere to the west, however it could have been a captive animal. We just don't know."

Hamilton said the animal's age and sex are consistent with this theory. "Young males often wander long distances looking for areas not already occupied by adult male lions," he said. "Colorado has a thriving, self-sustaining cougar population. The fact that this cat turned up in western Missouri probably is more than just a coincidence."

Hamilton said the Conservation Department receives hundreds of reports of mountain lion sightings each year. Most sightings remain unverified due to a lack of physical evidence such as tracks, droppings, photographs or video tape recordings. In about a third of the cases, physical evidence clearly shows that other animals - often dogs or bobcats - were involved.

However, Hamilton said the Conservation Department's Mountain Lion Task Force investigates all credible reports of mountain lion sightings. He said people who think they have seen a mountain lion should call the nearest conservation agent or Conservation Department office.