Mountain lions are native to Missouri, but heavy human persecution drove them locally extinct by 1927. The species was eventually placed on the State's endangered species list and protected with only a handful of confirmed sightings since 1994. Despite the lack of a renewed population, the state ESA protection was removed in 2006.
Though most ‘mountain lion sightings’ in Missouri end up being misidentifications of dogs, bobcats, coyotes, deer and other animals, every once in awhile an occasional dispersing individual wanders over from western states.
Genetic research indicates that the common ancestor of today's Leopardus, Lynx, Puma, Prionailurus, and Felis lineages migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas approximately 8 to 8.5 million years ago.
What we know as a cougar today became recognizable as a distinct species about 400,000 years ago, and inhabited nearly all of the Americas for hundreds of thousands of years, alongside the giant sloth, the mammoth, the dire wolf and the sabre-toothed lion.
During the Pleistocene ice ages, conditions appear to have become too cold for cougar populations to survive, and paleotologists believe that at the end of the last ice age, the big cats repopulated North America from a southern refugium. Cougars have inhabited Missouri, alongside humans, for more than 40,000 years.
Native American tribes who originally lived in the Missouri region included the Chickasaw, Missouri and Osage. The Chickasaw word for mountain lion is ‘kowishto’. The Osage knew the mountain lion as ‘inlonka.’
Prior to European settlement, like in so many other western and Great Plains states, mountain lions were native to the entire state of Missouri. And like everywhere else in the western territories, European settlement came at great cost to the native carnivores, including bears, wolves and mountain lions. The settlers feared these large predators were seen as a direct threat to human safety and livestock as well as competition for resources. Besides killing the lions themselves, the new settlers killed vast numbers of deer (primary prey for mountain lions) for food and sport, significantly reducing this essential food source for native predators. Hit by this two-prong assault, mountain lions didn’t stand a chance. The indiscriminate and direct killing of lions, combined with the loss of a main food source resulted in hunters eliminating mountain lions from most states east of the Rockies by the early 1900's. The last known native Missouri mountain lion was killed in 1927.