Iowa among states with increased cougar sighting reports

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Mountain lion evidence shifts to Boone County

By:CHUCK HACKENMILLER, Boone County Today

December 24, 2001

     Stories of mountain lions in Iowa generate excitement and additional stories of people seeing lions in the countryside.

     The same holds true in Boone and the surrounding area. There have been sightings reported to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of what are believed to be mountain lions outside of Boone.

     Pat Schlarbaum, Natural Resource Department technician at the Wildlife Research Station near Boone, acknowledged that some residents have indicated they've spotted what appeared to be a mountain lion or two in Boone County.

      A report like that years ago would have likely found some skepticism, but not today.

     Previous mountain lion or cougar sightings may have been of captive animals that had escaped from their owners. That was the case when a mountain lion had been reported near Perry, according to the DNR office.

     But this August when a mountain lion was hit by a vehicle on a highway near Harlan, the theory that non-captive mountain lions were moving westward into Iowa became more apparent, according to Schlarbaum. "There was no collar around the animal's neck. And its claws just smelled of deer meat," he said.

     There were reports that where the mountain lion had died, the area had also been void of deer population when compared to the deer density reported in the rest of the state.

     This year there have been plaster casts of mountain lion tracks made near Dayton, tracks that measured about 4 inches in length. With the prey base in central Iowa, and the cover available, this area is "like a Garden of Eden" for wayward mountain lions, Schlarbaum said.

     Once the game is gone, the mountain lion would likely go to miles to the next watershed area and get back into it.

     Jim Brown, Boone, was finishing his bow hunting for turkey in late November when he came upon some unusual tracks around the public hunting access area near Honey Creek outside of Boone. He felt certain that the deep prints were that of a mountain lion that was racing up the bank of the waterway.

     "I've seen mountain lions when out in western Oklahoma. I've petted mountain lions. I know about the size of their tracks. It's the size of an adult hand and you can see the four claw marks," he said.

     Brown recently photographed the print to show doubters his recent find.

     Ron Andrews, DNR fur-bearer specialist in Clear Lake, said the likelihood of a person actually seeing a lion is extremely low, but there are confirmed cases. The problem is separating the actual sightings from misidentifications.

     Andrews has fielded calls from people professing to have seen a mountain lion in Adams, Fremont, Pottawattamie, Carroll, Montgomery, Ringgold, Webster, Boone, Hamilton and Lyon counties. The list doesn't include the animal hit by a vehicle in Shelby County in August or the captive animal that escaped and was hit by a vehicle in Jasper County in April.

     The sighting in Ringgold County came from a DNR wildlife technician who also retrieved some physical evidence - the animal's scat. There are also plaster casts of lion tracks made in Webster and Ringgold counties and tracks have been confirmed in Lyon County.

     "There are likely some free ranging mountain lions moving in and out of Iowa," he said. Sightings are also increasing in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and, to a lesser extent, in southeast South Dakota, he said.

     Mountain lions can cover a tremendous distance in a relatively short period of time, moving 50 to 60 miles easily in one night. "They can be here today and gone tomorrow if that's what they decide to do," Andrews said.

     To help with the confirmation process, Andrews offers a few tips for identifying a lion.

     The animal will be larger than a black lab with a big head, tan to gray in color with an even shaped tail. Like all animals, mountain lions will try to escape undetected. "These animals have tremendous instincts and will obviously see you well before you see them," he said.

     In the remote chance a person would come in contact with a mountain lion, the best advice is to try to maintain composure, move slowly, make noise and if wearing a coat, try to puff up as big as possible. Don't run away because running may excite the animal. The most likely reaction of the animal will be to escape into cover away from where it was spotted.

     With the leaves gone, crops harvested and snow surely making its way to Iowa, the chances of someone seeing a mountain lion will improve from extremely low to slightly better than extremely low.

     People who believe they have seen a mountain lion should report it with as much detail as possible to Andrews at 641-357-3517.
 
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