River in Lisbon, Missouri
 

MOUNTAIN LIONS IN THE STATE OF MISSOURI

Missouri killed its last known indigenous lion in 1927. The species was eventually placed on the State's endangered species list and protected although this protection was removed in 2006. Lions were gone for nearly seventy years. Eventually some dispersing individuals wandered over from western states. In February 2012 Missouri Senate Bill 738 was introduced by Senator Stouffer to provide a legal basis for anyone to kill a mountain lion in Missouri, at any time, for any reason. If passed, this bill would remove any last shred of protection for mountain lions in Missouri. Click here to take action with MLF against Missouri Senate Bill 738.

SUMMARY: Mountain Lions in the State of Missouri



The History of Mountain Lions in Missouri

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 number 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 1920s, 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.

The Status of Mountain Lions in Missouri

Potential Routes to Missouri from Other States

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.

Current Law

Mountain Lions are unprotected and legal to shoot in Missouri and the Missouri Department of Conservation does not want the species to re-establish a population in the state.

In February 2012, Missouri Senate Bill 738 was introduced by Senator Stouffer to provide a legal basis for anyone to kill a mountain lion in Missouri, at any time, for any reason. If passed, this bill would remove any last shred of protection for mountain lions in Missouri.

In March 2012 CBS news reported that Missouri Senator Stouffer not only wants to make it easier to kill mountain lions (SB 738), but that he does not believe mountain lions should be allowed to re-establish a population in Missouri, saying, "We should define the mountain lion as an invasive species instead." This implies a future proposal to actively exterminate any lions that cross into the state.

Click here for the latest information on SB 738.

Click here to take action with MLF against Missouri Senate Bill 738.

Sightings and Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortality in Missouri

Sporadic sightings continue to be reported in the state. While some may be released pets (nearly thirty Missourians have permits to legally keep lions in captivity), research shows the majority are dispersing juveniles, primarily males, from western states making the trek over in search of new habitat. 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 at this time, 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. However, with no legal protection and the few cats who do show up being killed, having an established population of lions in Missouri may take decades or possibly never happen at all.

Sightings Confirmed by the MDC Mountain Lion Response Team

Photo of lion profile in grass.
  • June 2013 - Pulaski County Photograph taken by a motion-activated game camera on private land. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph. This marks the 40th confirmed mountain lion sighting (forty pieces of evidence, not necessarily forty individual lions) in Missouri since the species was extirpated from the state in 1927.
  • Agent standing over mountain lion carcass on an examination table.
    Missouri Department of Conservation.
  • February 2013 - Carter County Photographs were taken by a motion-activated game camera at Peck Ranch Conservation Area. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed these images and other signs at the location.
  • January 2013 - Warren County Three photographs were taken by a landowner's motion-activated game camera from December 9, 2012, though January 3, 2013. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photographs.
  • December 2012 - Carter County A photograph was taken by a hunter's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • December 2012 - DeKalb County A photograph was taken by a hunter's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • October 2012 - Taney County A photograph was taken by a hunter's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • October 2012 - Ripley County A photograph was taken by a hunter's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • October 2012 - Reynolds County A photograph was taken by a hunter's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • September 2012 - Shannon County A photograph was taken by another landowner's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • September 2012 - Shannon County A photograph was taken by a landowner's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • April 2012 - Grundy County A photograph was taken by another landowner's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • April 2012 - Grundy County A photograph was taken by a landowner's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • January 2012 - Reynolds County A photograph was taken by a landowner's motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • Mountain lion laying in small cage.
  • January 2012 - Reynolds County A private landowner caught a live male mountain lion in a large, cage-type game trap. The Mountain Lion Response Team collected DNA samples and determined the animal was about two years old with no signs of having been held in captivity.
  • September 2011 - Wayne County A photograph of a paw print in mud was taken by MDC staff and verified to be that of a mountain lion by the Mountain Lion Response Team.
  • September 2011 - Reynolds County Two photographs were taken by a private landowner. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photographs.
  • September 2011 - Shannon County A photograph was taken on Rocky Creek Conservation Area by a motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the photograph.
  • September 2011 - Shannon County A photograph was taken by a motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the image as being the same as the confirmed report in Shannon County in July 2011.
  • September 2011 - Texas County Subadult male shot by a landowner. No obvious signs of confinement. DNA analysis pending.
  • August 2011 - Carter County MDC received an eye-witness report supplemented with hair samples. Location origin of hair samples was confirmed by MDC staff. DNA analysis results confirm hair was from a mountain lion.
  • August 2011 - Oregon County A photograph was taken by a motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the image.
  • July 2011 - Gasconade County MDC received an eye-witness report supplemented with hair samples. Location origin of hair samples was confirmed by MDC staff. DNA analysis results confirm hair was from a mountain lion.
  • July 2011 - Shannon County A photograph was taken by a motion-activated game camera. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed the location of the image.
  • Macon County Lion Tracks, April 20, 2011
    Macon County Lion Tracks, April 20, 2011
  • April 2011 - Macon County Citizen sent photos of tracks in a muddy creekbed. The Mountain Lion Response Team confirmed tracks to be those of a mountain lion.
  • March 2011 - Oregon County Citizen reported observing a mountain lion jump a fence. DNA analysis of hairs collected at the scene confirmed species.
  • January 2011 - Macon County Subadult male shot by coyote hunters. No obvious signs of confinement. DNA analysis determined this mountain lion was likely a descendant of a South Dakota population.
  • January 2011 - St. Louis County Photo of probable subadult disperser taken by motion-activated game camera.
  • Agent standing over mountain lion carcass on an examination table.
    Photo by Missouri Department of Conservation.
    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. Landowner Bob Littleton lied, saying he shot the lion because it had killed his cattle. However, later he confessed that 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 man was prosecuted by MDC.
  • January 2011 - Ray County Subadult male treed and shot by raccoon hunters. No obvious signs of confinement. DNA analysis determined this mountain lion was likely a descendant of a South Dakota population.
  • December 2010 - Linn County Photo of probable subadult disperser taken by motion-activated game camera.
  • November 2010 - Platte County Photo of probable subadult disperser taken by landowner. DNA analysis of hair samples collected from the scene could not confirm ancestry.
  • December 2006 - Livingston County A photograph of a probable subadult disperser was taken by a motion-activated game camera.
  • November 2006 - Shannon County Tracks and deer carcass characteristic of a mountain lion kill were found.
  • 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.
  • October 2002 - Clay County A two- to three-year-old male road kill. DNA analysis revealed its origin to be North America.
  • 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.
  • December 2000 - Lewis County A video was taken by a deer hunter from a tree stand.
  • January 1999 - Texas County An adult-sized lion was treed by a rabbit hunter's dogs. Tracks in the snow (photos taken) and two deer carcasses characteristic of lion kills were found nearby.
  • January 1997 - Christian County A video was taken by a property owner. The animal's behavior suggested it had once been held in captivity.
  • November 1996 - Reynolds County A mountain lion with a deer carcass is videotaped.
  • 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 known indigenous mountain lion is killed, making the lion officially extirpated (extinct) within the state.
Mapped Sightings of Lions in Missouri

Mountain Lion Research in Missouri

In response to recent mountain lion confirmations and an increasing number of reported sightings in the state, the Missouri Department of Conservation has created a Mountain Lion Response Team. These individuals have been trained to identify lion sign and monitor sightings from the public. More than 99 percent of their investigations have concluded the reported animal was NOT a mountain lion. Dog tracks and dog sightings are the two most common culprits for misidentification. Additionally, bobcats, house cats, and other fast, tan-colored wild animals in the brush like foxes, coyotes, and deer have been mistaken for lions.

MDC Mountain Lion Response Team investigates sightings where physical evidence is present. Examples of evidence include:

  • photographs
  • video
  • tracks
  • scat or hair samples linked to a sighting
  • animals attacked or killed by a lion

The Mountain Lion Response Team encourages anyone who has evidence of a mountain lion in Missouri to get in contact with them.

mountain.lion@mdc.mo.gov

Jeff Beringer, Resource Scientist
1110 South College Avenue
Columbia, MO 65201
(573) 882-9909, ext. 3211

Rex Martensen, Private Lands Supervisor
MDC Central Office
P.O. Box 180
Jefferson City, MO 65102
(573) 522-4115, ext. 3147

Shawn Gruber, Wildlife Programs Supervisor
MDC Central Office
P.O. Box 180
Jefferson City, MO 65102
(573) 522-4115, ext. 3262

For more information, visit their How to Report a Sighting page.

Brochure

Take Action

Even if you don't live in Missouri, your opinion counts. America's lions belong to the wild, and to us all... not just in western states for trophy hunters to kill. The future of the American lion, specifically if it will ever reclaim its historic range in the eastern two-thirds of the country, relies heavily on the attitudes and legistalive measures put forth by residents in Midwestern states.

The battle is just beginning in Missouri. With your help, we can stop destructive legislation like SB 738, give lions endangered species protection, and make Missouri the example for other states to follow.

Please let your friends know about this website — and how they can help — through email, Facebook and Twitter.

Missouri Brochure

Check out the brochure created by Mountain Lion Foundation and local Missouri activists 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.

View in PDF and print out our Mountain Lions in Missouri brochure (offered 11" x 17" or 8.5" x 14" paper format) and please share it with your friends, colleagues, and neighbors.



Last Update: August 22, 2013

ON AIR: Clay Nielsen on Mapping Dispersal

06/09/11 An Audio Interview with Craig Fergus, MLF Volunteer

In this edition of our audio podcast ON AIR, volunteer Craig Fergus interviews wildlife biologist Clayton Nielsen about his work mapping dispersal corridors for mountain lions into the Midwest, and analyzing areas of good habitat in anticipation of potential breeding populations in the region.