New Mexico path through Tent Rocks.
 
Photo of rock art in Red Dot Trail, New Mexico.

HISTORY OF LIONS IN NEW MEXICO

New Mexico still allows trapping on much of its public lands.

Like most states, New Mexico's first lion management plan took the form of paying a bounty for every lion killed. In 1971 the species became a game animal and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish initiated sport hunting of lions. Since then, thousands of lions have been killed by recreational and trophy hunters. More recently, trapping has been authorized and continues to be a highly controversial topic.

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The History of Lions in New Mexico

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.

Petroglyph at Three Rivers
Rock art petroglyph in Three Rivers.

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 New Mexico, alongside humans, for more than 40,000 years.

Native people memorialized the cougar in rock carvings, totems, in story and in song. As European settlement expanded in the 1840's, cougar persecution and riding the landscape of dangerous wildlife became more common.

Bounty Period

Like most states, New Mexico's first lion management plan took the form of paying a bounty for every lion killed where the pelt was turned over to authorities. This program continued in New Mexico until 1970.

Game Management

In 1971, mountain lions became a "protected" species, under the management authority of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. In that year the Department initiated a 4-month regulated hunting season in the southwest corner of the state, with spotted kittens and females accompanied by kittens protected from being hunted. Over the years the length of the hunting season, the size of the legal hunt areas, and the hunting harvest limits have been expanded to be year-long events (April through March), and include almost all of the state.

In 1983, New Mexicos agricultural industry, concerned with potential livestock depredation, introduced a legislative bill to eliminate the mountain lions so-called protected status. While the bill was eventually tabled for lack of information, it did cause NMDGF to produce a detailed report on lions in New Mexico (Evans 1983). The reports final recommendations resulted in reducing the 1984 harvest limit, and shortened (for a year) New Mexicos lion hunting season.

In 1999, NMDGF implemented a mountain lion harvest quota system based on Game Management Unit (GMU). New Mexico is divided into 69 GMUs, each with its own lion population estimates and hunting quotas.

New Mexico has two long-term programs which attempt to protect other species by lethally removing mountain lions from specific geographic locations. And as of 2015, traps and snares can be used to help hunters capture and kill lions.


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