RAPID CITY, S.D. - A young mountain lion fitted with a radio collar in the northern Black Hills 10 months ago may have left the country in search of a home and love.
The cat was recently detected several hundred miles away near the Canadian border in northern Minnesota on a journey that's taken him through northwestern South Dakota and the Grand Forks area in eastern North Dakota.
"Once they decide to go, it seems to move pretty quick," said Dan Thompson, a state mountain lion researcher who's been keeping track of the lion's movements. "He's looking for good habitat, then eventually, he's going to be looking for a female. He's still trying to figure out where he's going."
A wildlife crew captured a pair of young male lions May 4 near Nemo. The lions, believed to be siblings, weighed about 90 pounds each and were estimated to be 1 to 1 1/2 years old.
Thompson, a South Dakota State University researcher working with the state Game, Fish & Parks Department, said both cats were fitted with radio-transmitter collars, allowing them to be located after they were released.
The cats stayed together for a while before splitting up, Thompson said. One was hit by a vehicle and killed.
Thompson was able to periodically track the surviving cat. The transmitter collar has a widely variable range, depending on terrain and the location of the animal wearing it. Thompson does much of his monitoring from an airplane.
"If I get up fairly high and the lion's at a high point, I can hear him 20 or 30 miles away," Thompson said. "In the Black Hills, especially during the summer when it's hot and they're laying low, you have to fly right over them, basically."
The mountain lion was most recently located near the Canadian border.
"They flew a couple of weeks ago and couldn't hear him, so we're kind of assuming he kept going north into Manitoba," Thompson said. "These giant movements we're seeing, we don't exactly know what's going on."
The cat's movement is extreme but not unique. Other lions from the Black Hills have wandered onto the plains, and one made it all the way to Oklahoma before being hit by a train and killed.
The radio tracking project is essential to the development of GF&P management policies on lions and is the foundation for Thompson's doctoral work at SDSU.
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com