Though mountain lions once roamed the hills and forests of Kansas,
persecution at the hands of humans has driven them locally extinct in the state.
Fear and misinformation were the main forces driving this extirpation.
But attitudes have changed since the early 1900s and there's hope for the future.
What few that may have passed through the state have been dispersers passing through
or escaped captive animals. None of these have managed to start a stable population.
If we support mountain lion-friendly legislation, open space conservation, and preserve corridors connecting potential habitat, we could reverse this situation and bring mountain lions back home to Kansas.
Though Kansas does not have a self-sustained mountain lion population of its own, cats have been sighted since they were extirpated. Below are some of the sightings that have taken place since 2003.
On March 2nd, 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the
eastern cougar to be extinct. Mountain lions used to roam the entire country,
coast to coast, and the eastern cougar subspecies (Puma concolor couguar)
occupied the northeast region. By the 1850s, hunting pressure had made mountain
lions rare in the eastern two thirds of the continent. Mountain lions were functionally
extinct in the Midwest by 1860, the mid-Atlantic states by 1882, in the south coastal
states by 1886, in central Appalachia by 1900, and in New England by 1906.
In 1973, Congress passes the Endangered Species Act, designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a 'consequence of economic growth and development untendered by adequate concern and conservation.' Eastern cougars were among the first species listed as a federally endangered subspecies under the Act.
Though cougars have been functionally extinct for over a century, the USFWS continues to receive reports of sightings. They have not been able to confirm any of these cats were the eastern cougar subspecies, rather they believe these individuals have been released pets or lions dispersing from the western population.
2003: Young male outfitted with radio collar near Spearfish, SD on the northern edge of the Black Hills on Sept. 3, 2003. He was killed by a train near Red Rock Oklahoma in May 2004.
In a period of less than nine months it traveled a (straight line) distance of 660 miles from its homeland. It undoubtedly traveled south half the width of South Dakota, across Nebraska and Kansas and then into Oklahoma. Red Rock is located approximately 40 miles south of Arkansas City, Kansas.
2007: The first undisputed documentation of a lion in modern times. A landowner shot an adult male lion on his property west of Medicine Lodge. The Kansas Dept. of Wildlife and Parks located the pelt at a taxidermy studio. Samples were sent to the USDA Lab at Missoula, Montana. They determined the animal was from North America (If it had been from South America, it would have been a former captive.) and the landowner was fined $75.00 for court costs.
2009: October 12, Hunter in tree stand took multiple photographs of lion NE of WaKeeney in Trego County. The photo were confirmed by the Kansas Dept of Wildlife and Parks.
2010: March 25, Young male trapped and collared near Estes Park, Colorado on October 20, 2009 passes through extreme western Kansas, then went back into Kansas and from there, through Oklahoma and Texas and then into New Mexico.
2010: Oct. 19 Caleb Mahin of Formoso found several images of what appears to be a mountain lion on a remote-controlled camera he'd placed near the Republican River in Republic County.
2010: Dec. 7 Lion captured by trail camera in Nemaha County. The owner of camera wanted his name and the photo kept confidential.
2011: early Nov. Deer hunter found an image of a lion on a trail camera in Atchison County. The hunter also found tracks at the site.
2012: Oct. 31 Kurt Keesling, a deer hunter using remote camera in Stafford County near St. John, captured an image of lion.
2014: Sept. 24 A deer hunter captured an image of lion on his trail camera in Labette County.
2015: Aug 3 A photo of a puma was captured by a trail camera photo in Rooks County just north of Webster.
2015: Aug. 15 A trail camera captured a photo of a puma in Ellis County near Hays.
2015: Sept. 7 A resident was able to take a video of a puma north of Great Bend in the Barton Hills area in Barton County.
2015: Sept. 20 A trail camera captured an image of a puma in Sumner County near Argonia.
The sightings on August 3rd, 15th and September 7th and 20th in 2015 were in an almost straight line trending SSE from the Nebraska state line. A confirmation in SW Nebraska on July 15, 2014 and 5 confirmations from NE Oklahoma dating from October 20, 21, 27 and 28th fit into this line as well. These recordings are probably records of a single male’s movement across the state. The line can be extended backwards to the Black Hills of South Dakota or the same Pine Ridge population in NW Nebraska, which is the most likely place from which this cat may have traveled. It is likely that this puma was killed after the last sighting on the 28th, but the death was never reported.
2015: Oct. Emaciated subadult female found in shed near Dodge City. Apparently starved to death.
With the appropriate protections to the species and their habitat, perhaps we could recover our lost mountain lions, and they could once again wander the land in which they formerly lived.