Mountain lions (also known as cougars, pumas, and many other names) are ambush predators with a dwindling population. Currently, it’s believed that about 20,000-40,000 of these animals remain in the United States. Some states have a thriving population of several thousand mountain lions, like California. Yet, Missouri doesn’t have any mountain lions living within its borders. At least, that’s what the official report on these felines says. Take a look and see the changing situation of mountain lions in Missouri.
Current Mountain Lion Population in Missouri
Officially, the mountain lion population in Missouri is zero. Mountain lions were extirpated in this state back in the 1920s, meaning they were wiped out and have no breeding population in the state since. Without a breeding population within the borders of the state, it is safe to say that there is no way to increase the population of mountain lions in Missouri.
However, the lack of a stable population in the state doesn’t mean you won’t run into these animals. Let’s take a look at the steady rise in mountain lion sightings over the last few years.
Recent Sightings in Missouri
Although Missouri does not have a breeding population of mountain lions, many of these felines have been spotted in the state. Reports of mountain lion sightings have been steadily increasing over the last 20 years. This uptick in activity has led some people to believe that the cats are poised to make a comeback.
Since 1994, 86 confirmed reports of mountain lions in Missouri have been recorded. The frequency of these reports has been increasing since the 2010s.
However, mountain lion sightings in Missouri don’t necessarily mean that the state is recovering. The vast majority of the mountain lions that have been spotted in Missouri are adult males. In other words, the state still doesn’t have a stable breeding population. Thus, it seems unlikely that the population is going to recover there within the next few years at least.
Still, a female mountain lion was spotted in Missouri in February 2016. Scientists performed genetic analyzes at the scene of a mountain lion kill, and it was discovered that the feline was female and had probably traveled from another state. The appearance of a female mountain lion renewed hope that the cats could someday make a return to Missouri and have a stable population.
Reasons for Increases in Mountain Lion Sightings
Roughly 75 of the 86 confirmed sightings since 1994 occurred after 2010. Looking at that statistic, it may seem almost likely that mountain lions are taking root in Missouri once again. Yet, that may not be the case.
Several possibilities exist for the increase in mountain lion sightings. Looking at the list of official sightings, it’s clear that they have become far more common in recent years. A few potential reasons for this occurrence include:
- Mountain lions are returning to parts of Missouri, but the population is so small that it goes mostly unnoticed.
- More significant numbers of mountain lions are passing through Missouri looking for territory.
- Technology has started to capture a larger transient population of mountain lions that may have existed for some time. Most of the sightings have been caught on game cameras. This technology was not as common in the early 2000s.
- A combination of two or three of these points could explain the increased sightings.
The Missouri Department of Conservation believes that the mountain lions in Missouri are travelers from other states. They travel from nearby states with breeding populations in search of their territory. After all, mountain lions require a rather large territory to hunt, upwards of 60 square miles.
Where Are Mountain Lions in Missouri?
The Missouri Department of Conservation meticulously records the areas in which mountain lions are sighted throughout the state. Interestingly, the sightings are rather spread out. However, there are some parts of the state where the sightings are more common than others.
Mountain lions in Missouri are often sighted in the southeastern portion of the state, along the Current River and south of the Mark Twain National Forest. Another cluster of sightings exists north of the Ozark Plateau and south of Springfield.
Aside from those areas, the sightings are scattered throughout the state. Although mountain lions still demonstrate a preference for mountainous, wooded areas, they can be seen in just about any ecosystem.
The Future of Missouri’s Mountain Lions
The increase in mountain lions in Missouri, at least in terms of sightings, could indicate the apex predator’s imminent return to the state. Increased sightings in neighboring states like Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Tennessee suggest these creatures are traveling quite far from their known sustained breeding grounds.
Arkansas, a border state with Missouri, is believed to be home to a breeding population of a few dozen mountain lions. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the population of mountain lions in this area will recover, though.
The best way to characterize the future of mountain lions is that it’s uncertain. One thing is for sure, though: mountain lion sightings are becoming more common.
What Should You Do If You See a Mountain Lion?
If you live in Missouri and spot a mountain lion, the best idea is to leave it alone and leave the area. They avoid humans whenever possible, but mountain lions are dangerous wild animals.
If you encounter a mountain lion, do the following
- Stay calm and don’t make any sudden movements.
- Move away from the animal without running.
- Give the mountain lion plenty of room to escape.
- Do not take your eyes off the mountain lion while moving away.
- Make yourself look bigger by waving your arms or using a jacket to expand your profile.
- Do not turn away or bend over to pick up anything. That can activate the mountain lion’s predatory senses.
If the animal starts behaving aggressively, then:
- Yell at the mountain lion in a loud but firm voice.
- Start throwing whatever you have at the animal to make it turn away.
- Prepare to fight if it comes close, protecting your head and neck from the assault.
- Fight back with everything and anything you have if attacked. Use sticks, rocks, pocketknives, or anything else that can be reached without bending over.
If you are traveling in a territory where sightings have occurred, it’s a good idea to bring along bear spray to ward off mountain lions. It would be best if you never hiked alone in their territory.
Report the sighting to local authorities and continue to exercise caution when you next resume your outdoor activities. The chances are minimal that you’ll see a mountain lion in Missouri, but it’s best to be prepared in the event of an encounter.