OK: Mountain lion killed by vehicle near Minco provides research opportunity for Wildlife Department

A mountain lion was found dead Nov. 1 along HWY 81 north of
Minco after having been hit by a vehicle, according to Erik
Bartholomew, furbearer biologist for the Oklahoma Department of
Wildlife Conservation.

The young, 130-lb. male mountain lion will provide an important
research opportunity for the Department since the animals are rare
and elusive and because biologists have had few opportunities to
study them up close in Oklahoma. Bartholomew and a team of Wildlife
Department biologists have already collected data on the cat to
determine its age and condition, and the animal itself will be used
for educational purposes by the Department.

“We took general measurements of the body of the animal,”
Bartholomew said, which included the cat’s weight and measurements
of its body, head, tail and paws. Additionally, a tissue sample was
collected for DNA analysis to try and determine the origin of the
lion, and a tooth was also pulled so that it could be sectioned and
stained to more precisely determine the age of the animal.”

“His fur did have some faint spotting, and based on that, he would
be a sub-adult between 12-20 months old,” Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew said the mountain lion might have been following the
South Canadian River corridor in search of new territory, as young
males are sometimes pushed out of the territories of older,
dominant males.

“These young males tend to have very large home ranges and can have
movements of over 200 square miles. They go out, they look for new
territory, and this one unfortunately ran into a car.”

River corridors are major travel passageways for all types of
wildlife. Bartholomew said since humans build cities and towns
along rivers, close encounters with wildlife will occur, but a
mountain lions basic instinct is to avoid people.

Bartholomew said the Wildlife Department receives scattered reports
of mountain lions “all the time,” but only three have been
confirmed this year, including one in the Tulsa area and another
whose photograph was captured by a trail camera near Sand
Springs.

Also called “panthers,” “cougars” and “pumas,” mountain lions are
native to Oklahoma, and Bartholomew said it is a common
misconception that the Wildlife Department denies their existence
in the state. Another common but false rumor is that the Wildlife
Department has released mountain lions in Oklahoma.

“There is no doubt from the Wildlife Department’s standpoint that
mountain lions occur in Oklahoma, but the Wildlife Department has
never released them here,” Bartholomew said. “Additionally, we have
never confirmed reproduction of mountain lions within the state.
Without reproduction, we do not have a population. What we have are
transient animals moving through the state looking for new
territory.

Many wildlife species and domestic animals can be and often are
mistaken for mountain lions, so getting confirmed, verifiable
sightings can be challenging.

“As scientists, we can only rely on those sightings that are
verifiable and confirmed, and fortunately we have had the evidence
in recent years to confirm several sightings,” Bartholomew
said.

Still, Bartholomew said the cats are rare in the state and that few
people will ever have the opportunity to see one in the wild.

“Mountain lions are very secretive,” he said. “Even in states like
New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado where there’s lots of mountain
lions, very rarely are they seen. In fact most of the ones that are
seen are the ones that are hit on the road.”

One of the state’s most elusive species, mountain lions were
originally found throughout Oklahoma and were thought to have been
eradicated in the state during the 19th century. There have been
few documented cases since the late 1900s, but in the last decade,
the Department has documented several confirmations. In addition to
those this year, an adult male was killed illegally in Cimarron
County in February of 2010. In April of 2010, a young
radio-collared male from Colorado traveled through Texas County in
the Panhandle and is now living in New Mexico. In the fall of 2009,
trail cameras from Tillman and Atoka counties recorded mountain
lions. In 2006, a mountain lion in Cimarron County was killing a
landowner’s goats and was shot, and in 2004, a young radio-collared
male from the Black Hills of South Dakota was hit by a train near
the town of Red Rock.

Several characteristics distinguish mountain lions from other
wildlife and domestic animals. Its tail is more than half the
length of its body, and it has black tips on the tail and ears.
Their coat is primarily tan in color. Males average seven feet long
and weigh about 140 pounds, while females average six feet in
length and weigh about 95 pounds.

There is not a mountain lion hunting season in Oklahoma. However,
the law allows mountain lions to be taken by licensed hunters, but
only when a mountain lion is committing or about to commit
depredation on any domesticated animal or when deemed an immediate
safety hazard. Individuals who kill a mountain lion must
immediately call a game warden or other Wildlife Department
employee.

Officials with the Wildlife Department rely on the public to report
verifiable sightings, photos and reports of mountain lions to help
document the species in Oklahoma.

“The only way we get information is when people report it,”
Bartholomew said. “If people send us trail camera photos and we can
confirm the location, that’s great information for us. Likewise
this one was hit on the road, and somebody turned it into us.
That’s the only way we can get data on these animals because
they’re so secretive. There’s so few in this state that we rely on
the public in order to gather information on them.”

To submit photographs and report sightings of mountain lions in
Oklahoma, call Bartholomew at (405) 385-1791.

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