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Few Rules, No Protections For Kentucky's Mountain Lions

The following story was originally written by Richard Essex and posted on the LEX18.com website

The killing of a mountain lion by state conservation officers has generated a discussion about whether the big cat should have been protected.

LEX 18 Investigates looked into Kentucky's rules regarding mountain lions and found there are very few, and none offer protected or endangered status to the animal.

The only regulation we could find is that mountain lions are prohibited from being imported and owned in most circumstances.

Mountain lions, like the one killed in Bourbon County last week, are classified by state law as "inherently dangerous wildlife," and it is one of few once-native species on the list - which also includes rhinoceroses, baboons and komodo dragons.

The law, enacted in 1998, allows local governments to regulate the possession of such animals.

However, according to some wildcat advocates, the lack of statewide regulation should change in the face of evidence that mountain lions could be migrating back east of the Mississippi River.

"I would like to see states put some protections in place," said Amy Rodrigues, biologist with the California-based Mountain Lion Foundation.

State officials say the mountain lion killed in Bourbon County is the first seen in the state since the Civil War. The species is classified as a "extirpated," meaning it has been driven from the area.

Mountain lions are most commonly found in the West and Midwest United States. However, they can thrive in most climates have been known to migrate hundreds or thousands of miles looking for food, mates and a place to live.

In 2011, for example, a mountain lion hit and killed by a car in Connecticut was thought to have traveled from South Dakota.

Although the Bourbon County mountain lion was the first verified sighting in Kentucky decades, there have been hundreds of reports and a few blurry pictures and videos of suspected mountain lions all over the state.

In 2012, Ashland neighborhoods were put on alert after several people reported seeing one. And in 2010, sightings were reported in Harrison and Mason counties.

Rodrigues said, ideally, Kentucky game officials would have caught the lion and put a radio collar on it to see where it went.

Instead, conservation officers shot it.

"A lot of these people have never seen a mountain lion before, so I can understand the concern for public safety, but just because they see a mountain lion doesn't mean it's a threat," Rodriguez said. "These cats don't view us a food. Attacks are extremely rare. Fatalities are even more rare."

In California, which has a large population of the animal, there have been 13 attacks since 1986, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Three were fatal.

However, officials say mountain lions are solitary animals that generally don't pose a threat to humans unless cornered or threatened.

Their solitary nature could be why reports remain unverified, or the sightings could be bogus. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife told LEX 18 Investigates there is a good chance the Bourbon County lion was raised in captivity.

There are no reports of captive mountain lions escaping from a licensed facility in Kentucky or surrounding states, and an investigation is underway to find out where the cat came from.

DNA from the cat is being tested, which could help. Researchers used DNA in the 2011 case in Connecticut to track the mountain lion's origins.

State officials say the decision to shoot the animal was made to protect public safety, because it was close to populated areas and getting dark.

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