Analysis of Oklahoma's "Minco mountain lion" confirms South Dakota ties
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation recently confirmed origins of the mountain lion struck and killed by a motorist in November 2011 near Minco.
According to Erik Bartholomew, furbearer biologist for the Wildlife Department, the 130-lb. male mountain lion that was found dead along HWY 81 north of Minco is closely tied genetically to populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota. DNA analyses performed on tissue collected from the cat also confirm it was a wild mountain lion and not an escaped domestic animal.
"The cat's DNA shows a very close genetic relationship to wild populations in South Dakota," Bartholomew said. "We can say with a high level of confidence that this male was born in the Black Hills region. Another clue that this animal was wild is the fact that it had porcupine quills in its stomach. Apparently mountain lions consider them to be good eating, or maybe they are easy to catch, but many times western states report mountain lions with porcupine quills in their front legs and digestive tract."A small tooth from the mountain lion's upper jaw also was sent to a lab for aging. Much like the rings on a tree, the root portion of the tooth has rings that can be used by experts to age the animal. The tooth from the "Minco mountain lion" showed that the animal was at least three years old.
"We have no idea of the path he used to get to Oklahoma," Bartholomew said. "However, with him being killed near the South Canadian, he likely was following the river where their primary prey – white-tailed deer – would be in high abundance. Males tend to have very large home ranges at or over 200 square miles. The Black Hills is a small island of habitat, and many times adult males will get in territorial disputes with young males and the loser leaves in search of new territory."
This mountain lion represents a unique research opportunity for the Department since the animals are secretive and because biologists have had few other opportunities to study them up close in Oklahoma.
Other wild mountain lions documented in Oklahoma also have tested positive for Black Hills origins, such as the female captured in the city limits of Tulsa last year and another believed to have been killed by a train in 2004 near Red Rock. A male mountain lion that was shot in 2010 in the Panhandle by a Department of Agriculture employee while depredating livestock tested positive for genetic ties to populations in eastern Colorado, and another confiscated by the Department's law enforcement division in southeast Oklahoma was genetically tied to populations in the Pine Ridge region of northwest Nebraska. Additionally, several other sightings have been documented, including a young radio-collared male from Colorado that traveled through the Panhandle's Texas County in 2010 and is now living in New Mexico, and trail camera pictures from the fall of 2009 that show mountain lions in Tillman and Atoka counties.
Also called "panthers," "cougars" and "pumas," mountain lions are native to Oklahoma and historically would have been found statewide. Bartholomew said it is a common misconception that the Wildlife Department has released mountain lions in Oklahoma.
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.
To submit photographs and report sightings of mountain lions in Oklahoma, log on to wildlifedepartment.com and report your sighting online or call Bartholomew at (405) 385-1791.