KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)- The number of cougars reported in Missouri last year was up significantly over recent years, with most of the big cats heading into the Show-Me state from Colorado, South Dakota and Montana, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

MDC spokesman Bill Graham said there were 14 confirmed cougar sightings in Missouri last year. That compares to a dozen cougars confirmed in the state over the previous 16 years.

So far this year, there have been just three confirmed cougar sightings in Missouri. Motion-activated cameras snapped one in Grundy County in north-central Missouri in April and another in Reynolds County in southeast Missouri in January. The third, who got caught in a game trap in January in Reynolds County, was about 2 years old. It was unclear where he came from, the department said.

Graham said male cougars tend to wander from their home territories in the western and northern states when they mature to avoid turf battles with older males and also to seek food, shelter and females. The big cats are largely secretive and mostly keep to riverbanks and wooded areas, usually avoiding humans, The Kansas City Star reported Sunday.

Jeff Beringer, a scientist at the conservation department, said male cougars move across long distances. But he said it’s unclear if more cougars are in Missouri now or if better reporting is behind the higher numbers from last year.

“Increased public awareness and the growing popularity of trail cameras might account for part of the increase in sightings,” Beringer said, “but last year’s spike is hard to explain. What we know for sure is that mountain lions are travelling a long way to get here.”

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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