Mountain lion saliva left on a dead elk in Shannon County shows it was a female cat, the first confirmed female mountain lion in Missouri since 1994.
Laura Conlee, furbearer biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the partially eaten elk was found in February 2016, and tests on the saliva confirmed a female mountain lion had eaten it.
“We suspect the elk had brain worms and there’s evidence the mountain lion did kill the elk,” Conlee said.
DNA from the cat’s saliva showed it likely originated from the Black Hills of Wyoming and South Dakota and northwest Nebraska. Conlee said it’s a significant find because female mountain lions typically don’t travel long distances, preferring to live and hunt near where they were born.
“Mountain lion males will disperse over very long distances,” she said. “All of the mountain lions we’ve confirmed so far in Missouri have been males. There was just one killed by a car last week in Warren County (on I-70) and it was a male.”
There’s no indication the female mountain lion is staying in Shannon County, Conlee said, and it’s possible the cat will continue moving. The conservation department re-established wild elk at the Peck Ranch Conservation Area near Winona in 2011. Elk and deer are natural food sources for mountain lions.
Conlee emphasized there still is no evidence that Missouri has a breeding population of mountain lions. The conservation department tracks and investigates reports of mountain lion sighting, and maintains a website and map showing where such sightings have occurred.
Conlee said the last confirmed female mountain lion resulted from a cat that was shot in 1994. MDC investigated the incident, and later found a mountain lion pelt that was traced back to the animal that had been shot. Testing on the pelt showed it was a female, Conlee said.
In 1996, the department established its Mountain Lion Response Team with specially trained staff to investigate reports and evidence of mountain lions. Since then, all mountain lion sightings confirmed by the MLRT have either proven to be males or have provided insufficient evidence to determine the animal’s sex.
Since 1994, MDC has recorded 68 confirmed mountain lion sightings in the state. Confirmations have become more common in recent years, likely due to a combination of factors, according to Conlee.
“We know the mountain lion population has grown in western states, and that could translate to more dispersing mountain lions making their way into Missouri, but we have also gotten better at finding them,” Conlee said. “As technology has advanced, we’ve seen an explosion in the numbers of game cameras across the Missouri landscape. We’ve also established more efficient methods for reporting and investigating mountain lion sightings. These factors all likely play a role in the increased number of confirmed mountain lion sightings in our state.”
According to the conservation department, the risk of a mountain lion attack in Missouri remains very small. No mountain lion attack on a human has ever been recorded in the state. People, livestock and pets face a much greater risk from familiar dangers we encounter, including automobiles, stray dogs and lightning strikes.
MDC has never stocked or released mountain lions in Missouri and has no plans to do so. However, the department wants to learn more about these rare animals and encourages all citizens to report sightings, physical evidence, or other incidents so they can be investigated.