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"Mountain Lions in Missouri" brochures now available! 

Check out the brochure to learn more about why there have been recent sightings in Missouri, how these lions could help the local ecosystem, and what legal steps need to be taken next.

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Mountain Lions in Missouri

Local Name:    Mountain Lion
History of Management

As early European settlers colonized North America, large predators like bears, wolves, and mountain lions were seen as a direct threat to ranching and competition for resources. The extensive killing of deer (a mountain lion's primary prey) by people for food and for sport, significantly reduced the amount of deer available for native carnivores. Some species of deer were even driven to extinction by hunters in eastern states. This lack of food, combined with the direct killing of lions, resulted in hunters eliminating mountain lions from most states east of the Rockies by the early 1900's. Missouri killed its last indigenous lion in 1927.

Although mountain lions were wiped out by the 1920's, the species was eventually placed on the states endangered species list and protected (should any cats happen to turn up) in Missouri. Lions were gone for nearly seventy years. Eventually some dispersing individuals wandered over from western states. From 1994 through 2005, there were five cases of confirmed mountain lion presence (photographs, tracks, and/or DNA evidence) in Missouri, and three lions were killed by residents.

Then in 2006, based on unfounded concerns* from cattle ranchers, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Commission announced it was "...undesirable to have a breeding population of mountain lions in Missouri [...] therefore, the Department of Conservation will not encourage the species to reestablish itself in the state." This decision removed the mountain lion from the states endangered species list and reclassified it as "extirpated," meaning extinct (or no local breeding population) in a particular area.

Because of the irrational fear of what could happen and misinformation about the species, the mountain lion is no longer protected in Missouri.

* According to the MDC website,
"The prospect of increasing mountain lion populations in Missouri causes a feeling of alarm for some folks. They cite the quickly growing bobcat population in the Midwest and are concerned that mountain lions could do the same thing if left unchecked. Missouri annually ranks among the top states for the number of cattle raised, and the potential presence of mountain lions causes much concern among producers. There have been no reports of mountain lions attacking people in Missouri, and no evidence of attacks on livestock or pets."

The MDC Code technically prohibits the hunting or random killing of any lion that wanders into the state. The law only allows people to kill lions that are attacking people or domestic animals. MDC Code 3 CSR 10-4.130 (6) states, "Mountain lions attacking or killing livestock or domestic animals, or attacking human beings, may be killed without prior permission, but the kill must be reported immediately to an agent of the department and the intact mountain lion carcass, including pelt, must be surrendered to the agent within twenty-four (24) hours." However, because they do not want a lion population in Missouri, since 2006 the MDC has not prosecuted any of the hunters who have treed and shot lions for sport.

Sightings and
Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities


Since 1994, mountain lion sightings have begun popping up around the state. While some may have been released pets (nearly thirty Missourians have permits to legally keep lions in captivity), research shows others likely dispersed from known populations in the West where their habitat is shrinking.

Young lions naturally have an instinct to disperse. Some will travel hundreds of miles to find available and suitable habitat, and to get away from lions they are closely related to. They may be following the Missouri River corridor and coming down from South Dakota. Other research suggests they could be coming up from parts of southwest Texas. Either way, each lion will continue to wander until it finds a mate. Since there is no evidence of lions breeding in Missouri, it is likely these lions are just passing through. If enough make it into the state, they could potentially settle and establish a local population.

Sightings Confirmed by the MDC Mountain Lion Response Team

17. May 2011  Macon County


Citizen sent photos of tracks in a muddy creek bed. The Department's Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the tracks to be those of a mountain lion.


16. March 2011 Oregon County

Citizen reported observing a mountain lion jump a fence. DNA analysis of hairs collected at the scene confirmed species; ancestry analysis is underway.

15. January 2011 Macon County

Subadult male shot by coyote hunters. No obvious signs of confinement. DNA analysis is pending.

14. January 2011 St. Louis County

Photo of probable subadult disperser taken by motion-activated game camera.

13. January 2011 Ray County

Subadult male treed and shot by raccoon hunters. No obvious signs of confinement. DNA analysis pending. Story: Landowner Bob Littleton lied, saying he shot the lion because it had killed his cattle. Later he confessed a friend, James McElwee, who was hunting raccoons nearby had actually shot the lion out of a tree, and there had been no attacks on livestock. Despite no immediate threat or danger, and lying about the incident to officials, neither men were prosecuted by MDC.

Photo caption: Mountain lion shot by James McElwee in Ray County on January 2, 2011 is examined by Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer (left) and Wildlife Biologist Todd Meese of the Missouri Department of Conservation in Columbia, Mo. Photo by Missouri Department of Conservation.

12. December 2010 Linn County

Photo of probable subadult disperser taken by motion-activated game camera.

11. November 2010 Platte County

Photo of probably subadult disperser taken by landowner. DNA analysis of hairs collected at the scene is pending.

10. December 2006 Livingston County

A photograph of a probable subadult was taken by a motion-activated game camera.

9. November 2006 Shannon County

Tracks and deer carcass characteristic of a mountain lion kill were found.

8. August 2003 Callaway County

An approximately 1 1/2-year-old male road kill. There were no obvious signs that it was formerly a captive animal. DNA analysis revealed its origin to be North America.

7. October 2002 Clay County

A two- to three-year-old male road kill. DNA analysis revealed its origin to be North America.

6. December 2001 Pulaski County

A photograph was taken by a motion-activated game camera. After a lengthy evaluation, it was determined that it was likely a small, subadult mountain lion.

5. December 2000 Lewis County

A video was taken by a deer hunter from a tree stand.

4. January 1999 Texas County

An adult-sized lion was treed by a rabbit hunters dogs. Tracks in the snow (photos taken) and two deer carcasses characteristic of lion kills were found nearby.

3. January 1997 Christian County

A video was taken by a property owner. The animals behavior suggested it had once been held in captivity.

2. November 1996 Reynolds County

A conservation agent video-recorded a mountain lion with a deer carcass.

1. December 1994 Carter County

A small adult female was treed and shot by two raccoon hunters near Peck Ranch Conservation Area. The carcass was never recovered, but a photo was obtained of the animal on a truck tailgate. Federal authorities fined each hunter $2,000. In Nov. 1998, a deer hunter found the skinned pelt of a small adult, a female, with head and feet attached, near a remote Texas County road. Although evidence suggests this is the same animal killed in Carter County, it cannot be confirmed absolutely.

1927 -- Missouri's last indigenous mountain lion is killed, making the lion officially extirpated (extinct) in the state.


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