Woodland stream.

Orphaned-kitten issue to be considered in setting new lion season

The state Game, Fish & Parks Commission will propose dates for the 2008 mountain lion season during a meeting in Custer State Park on Thursday and Friday, May 1 and 2, that also will include an update on the lion population in the Black Hills.
State biologists wouldn't discuss the recommendations they intend to make to the commission before the meeting. But a mountain lion advocate expects the commission to consider moving the start of the lion season from Nov. 1 to early January.

Sharon Seneczko, a veterinarian who heads the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation, said Wednesday that moving the start of the season from November back to January would separate it from the deer and elk seasons, during which hunters sometimes kill lions while hunting other big game. Seneczko thinks that more random hunting style increases the chances of killing a female lions with kittens.

The later start also would give some kittens born in late summer more of a chance to mature and prepare to survive on their own, should the mother lion be killed during the season, Seneczko said.

"They would be moving the lion season out of sync with the elk and deer season by moving it to January. And this is a positive effect," she said. "The hunters would then be focusing on mountain lions. I think we'd have a better chance of educating them and reducing the number of orphaned kittens."

GF&P Wildlife Division Director Tony Leif of Pierre said Wednesday that he couldn't discuss the biological staff's recommendation to the commission before to the meeting. But he did say that GF&P continues to look for ways to reduce the number of kittens orphaned during the lion season.

"That's not something we like - nor does the majority of the general public out there," Leif said. "We are looking at alternatives by which we could minimize the chances of that occurring."

The GF&P Commission has tried to limit the number of orphaned kittens by prohibiting the shooting of spotted lions or lions traveling with other lions. But the problem continues, requiring a complicated rescue effort that also includes placing the orphaned cats in zoos.

Even when orphaned kittens survive in the wild, they might stand a greater chance of developing into problem lions that attack livestock or pets or frequent towns or rural developments, Seneczko said. There would be fewer orphaned kittens if the GF&P commission lowered the limit on female lions, she said.

Last year, the season allowed hunters to kill a maximum of 35 lions overall or 15 female lions. The season opened Nov. 1 and closed Nov. 23, when the 15th female - the 18th lion overall - was killed. But a 16th female also was killed the same day by a hunter who didn't know the season quota had been reached.

Leif said there was no biological data before or after the season to indicate that the female quota was set too high.

If you go

Who: South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Commission

What: Monthly meeting, open to the public

When: 1 p.m. Thursday, May 1

Where: State Game Lodge in Custer State Park

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com.



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