On February 3, 2016, news outlets in South Dakota reported that 20 mountain lions had been killed so far in the 2016 Black Hills season. 13 of the 20 were females.
Two days later a hunter in Lawrence County, South Dakota "harvested" a three-month old female kitten.
Mountain Lion Foundation is convinced that South Dakota's tiny and fragile mountain lion population is finally succumbing to the profound overhunting that has accrued since 2005 when hunting of mountain lions began in the state.
According to Regional Supervisor Mike Kintigh, "The 14-pound cat shot in Lawrence County was determined to be an approximately three month old mountain lion based on the size and spotted markings."
South Dakotans pride themselves on their outdoor lifestyle, including hunting and fishing. But where is the bravery in killing a 3 month-old kitten no bigger than a housecat? Is this fair chase? At what point does pistol-packin' independence warp into a complete lack of compassion?
"Given the right conditions, it would be very difficult to see that they were in fact spotted at, you know, a distance of 100 yards when they might be hunting. We take all of that into account when we investigate these cases", said Kintigh.
But in this case, the kitten was in fact so small that it is difficult to understand how such a mistake could have been made.
This inability to discern the size and sex of lions is one of the reasons that Mountain Lion Foundation has urged an end to trophy hunting. Loss of female and pregnant cats can have devastating impacts on small breeding populations. The orphaning, starvation and slow death of kittens is inhumane. So is the loss of a kitten to a mother cat.
The hunter was cited for a class one misdemeanor improper tagging, which carries a penalty of fines to $1,000, one year in jail and loss of hunting privileges for a year.
We reached out by telephone to John Kanta at South Dakota's Department of Game, Fish and Parks last Tuesday to find out more about the kitten that was killed, and to ask what Mountain Lion Foundation members can do to encourage an end to South Dakota's mountain lion hunt.
Perhaps by working to mend fences with agency biologists, we can come to a better understanding of why South Dakota's treatment of mountain lions continues to go so wrong.
Mr. Kanta indicated that the violator had been cited, and that he would be happy to meet with MLF later this year.