KIRKWOOD, Mo. (KMOX) — Humans aren’t usually on their menu. (They prefer deer.) But the Missouri Department of Conservation is warning nature lovers to keep an eye out for the biggest of all cats in these parts — mountain lions.
Mountain Lions in Missouri was the topic of a conference held over the weekend at the Powder Valley Nature Center. Although reclusive, and generally shy of humans, 28 mountain lions have been sighted in the state since 1994.
“If you see one, the best thing you can do is do not turn and run,” said Department spokesman Dan Zarlenga, “because you will evoke its chase instincts. You want to do as little as you can to seem like prey.”
The most recent confirmed mountain lion sighting in the state was January in Reynolds County, where a two-year old mountain lion was captured in a cage-trap.
Closer to home, a “probable” mountain lion was photographed on a motion-activated camera in St. Louis County in January, 2011.
How many mountain lions are tip-toeing around the state at any one time remains a mystery. There’s no organized count. With a range of 500 miles, it’s believed the mountain lions in Missouri are males looking for food or females. The Department of Conservation believes those seen here are visitors, not residents.
“If there were an established mountain lion population like there are in other states,” Zarlenga said, “we would be seeing road kills, prey kills and they’d be turning up a lot more.”
So far, Zarlenga says, there is no evidence that females or kits have been spotted in Missouri.
Once native to Missouri , mountain lions were hunted, shot and chased out of the state by settlers. The last recorded mountain lion shooting in Missouri took place in the southwest part of the state in 1926. Mountain lions are currently a protected species under the Missouri Wildlife Code.
“The only provision in the Wildlife Code for lethal force against a mountain lion would be in self defense, whether there’s imminent danger to yourself, your family or your livestock,” Zarlenga said.
A bill to legalize the killing of mountain lions in Missouri was introduced this session by State Senator Bill Stoufer. The plan was the subject of a committee hearing in February, but it never got out of committee.
For now, the Missouri Department of Conservation is taking a hands-off approach to mountain lions in the state.
“I personally feel that it’s kind of awesome to have a predator like that in our state,” Zarlenga said, “It’s a natural part of the environment, and it’s how nature works. People complain about deer populations getting too large. That’s partly because we don’t have those types of predators.”