According to MDC's Mountain Lion Response Team, widely scattered mountain lion sightings have been confirmed in Missouri and will likely continue.
The Mountain Lion Response Team, which was established in 1996 to investigate reports and evidence of mountain lions, researches hundreds of mountain lion sighting reports each year. Mountain lions, or cougars, are reclusive animals and it can be difficult to know when and where the animals are present.
Physical evidence, such as tracks and photos, can be misleading. Dog tracks and dogs are the number one and number two cases of misidentification. Bobcats, house cats, coyotes, foxes and deer have also been mistaken for mountain lions.
Expert trackers look for the following to identify mountain lion tracks:
* Three lobes at the bottom of the pad. Dogs and coyotes have one indent at the bottom of the pad.
* Teardrop-shaped toes. Dogs' and bobcats' toes are shaped like an oval.
* Tracks that are between three and three and a half inches wide. Bobcat tracks are less than two inches wide.
* No claw marks are visible, except in extremely rare occasions when mountain lions use them for extra traction or to build up speed. Claw marks will be slender and sharp. Blunt, flat claw marks are usually visible in dog and coyote tracks.
The Mountain Lion Response Team also inspect kill evidence and sounds. Mountain lions make little noise in the woods, but when they do, they sound like a person whistling or a bird chirping. When they growl they sound like an overgrown house cat.
In addition to Taney County, a mountain lion sighting was confirmed in Christian County in 1997. A video was taken of the animal by a property owner. The animal's behavior suggested it had once been held in captivity.
Other confirmed sightings have occurred in southeast, central and northern Missouri. The total number of confirmed reports since 1994 is 35.
Some sightings or photographs of mountain lions may be of the same animal, because MDC can only confirm individual animals with DNA evidence.
It is believed that the mountain lions are dispersing from other states to the west of Missouri. The most extreme evidence of this dispersal occurred in early 2011 when a mountain lion that was killed in Connecticut was genetically traced to South Dakota.
MDC has no confirmed evidence of a breeding population in Missouri.
Mountain lions are naturally shy of humans and generally pose little danger to people, even in states with thriving breeding populations. Even though the animals are protected by law, Missouri's Wildlife Code allows people to protect themselves and their property if they feel threatened.
If an individual does encounter a mountain lion, he or she should stop and back away slowly. Stand upright and maintain eye contact. Running can stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase and attack.
People should not approach mountain lions, especially those that are feeding or have kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation if given a way to escape.
Individuals who happen upon a mountain lion should stay calm, talk in a calm, firm voice and raise their arms or open their jacket to appear larger than the animal. Pick up small children to keep them from running.
If a mountain lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or other objects that are within reach without crouching down or turning away from the animal. Wave the arms slowly and speak firmly.
Fight back if a mountain lion attacks. Remain standing or try to get up.
Each year, MDC receives many reports from people who believe they have seen a mountain lion. These reports are encouraged.
MDC conducts field investigations when sightings involve human safety or where there is substantial physical evidence, such as livestock damage, wildlife kill, scat or hair directly linked to the sighting or confirmed tracks.
Tracks that are characteristic of a mountain lion should be photographed and covered with a bucket.
Reports of sightings can be emailed to email@example.com or made by calling the Response Team at 573-882-9909, extension 3211 or 573-522-4115, extension 3147 or 3262. Reports can also be made by calling a local conservation agent.
For more information, visit mdc.mo.gov.