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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Missouri Mountain Lion DNA Test Results wolf sightings in 2010 and 2011

DNA tests shed light on cougar, wolf sightings

Mar. 28, 2011 JEFFERSON CITY–Analysis of DNA and other physical evidence is helping biologists learn more about unusual wildlife sightings that have occurred in Missouri in recent months.
COYOTE OR WOLF?
The string of sightings began Nov. 13 with the shooting of what appeared to be an unusually large coyote in Carroll County. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) sought DNA tests to clarify the animal’s identity. Scientists sometimes can determine where an animal came from by comparing its DNA with DNA samples from animals of the same species from different areas.
The first round of testing compared DNA from the 104-pound canine to that of western timber wolves. The tests showed a poor match with western wolves but did confirm the presence of coyote DNA. However, further testing linked the animal to timber wolves.
“Coyotes seldom get bigger than 30 pounds in Missouri,” said MDC Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer. “A coyote weighing more than 100 pounds just didn’t seem credible. Wolves are known to interbreed with domestic dogs and coyotes, so we had further testing done to look for evidence of that, and we found it.”
The second round of DNA tests compared the Carroll County canine’s DNA with samples from timber wolves from the Great Lake states of Minnesota, Wisconsin or Michigan. This time, the tests found a close match. Wolves from that area are known to have coyote DNA in their genes. This accounts for the match with coyote DNA in the initial tests.
“Lots of people were skeptical when we announced results from the first round of testing,” said Beringer. “We were too. But when you are trying to unravel a biological puzzle like this one, you take things one step at a time and go where the science leads you. This animal appeared to be very different from the western wolf samples it was compared with, but when we compared it with wolf DNA from the Great Lake states we found a match.”
When asked how a Great Lakes wolf got to Missouri, Beringer noted that wolves from northern states have turned up in Missouri before. The most recent case occurred in 2001. It involved an 80-pound timber wolf killed by a landowner in Grundy County. The man mistook the wolf for a coyote, but discovered his mistake when he found the animal wore a radio collar and an ear tag linking it to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, more than 600 miles away. He notified MDC, which was able to confirm its origin with Michigan officials.
MOUNTAIN LION DNA
Missouri’s other recent news about large carnivores consists of six confirmed sightings of mountain lions (Puma concolor), also known as cougars, since November. MDC verified three of those sightings – in Platte, Linn and St. Louis counties – with photos. MDC obtained hair from the cat photographed in Platte County, but DNA tests on the hair were only able to confirm that the animal was a mountain lion.
“We already knew that,” said Beringer. “The gentleman who saw it got photos that conclusively proved it was a mountain lion. We hoped DNA from the hair would enable us to learn where the animal came from, but hair is a poor source of DNA, and there just wasn’t enough to tell us more.”
Two confirmed sightings involved mountain lions that were shot by hunters, one on Dec. 31 and one on Jan. 15. With ample tissue for testing on these two animals, the DNA results were more revealing. Both had DNA consistent with mountain lions from South Dakota or northwestern Nebraska. Beringer said mountain lions from northwestern Nebraska and the Black Hills region of South Dakota are so closely related, it is almost impossible to distinguish between them.
Beringer said MDC uses other physical evidence to learn about mountain lions when their bodies are available for examination. Based on the condition of teeth and residual dark barring on their legs, the two male cougars shot by hunters were identified as being young animals.
“That is consistent with the theory that the cats we are seeing in Missouri are subadult males dispersing from their original home areas,” said Beringer.
Examination of the bodies of the two hunter-killed cats showed no evidence of them having been held in captivity. The stomach of the 115-pound cougar from Ray County was empty. The 128-pound cat from Macon County had eaten a rabbit. Both were in good physical condition. Further information about these and other confirmed mountain lion sightings is available at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/4168.
The most recent confirmed sighting occurred in Oregon County March 9. That cat left a tuft of hair on a barbed-wire fence after crossing the road in front of a motorist. MDC retrieved the hair, and testing at the University of Missouri confirmed it as a mountain lion. Further testing is planned to learn more about the Oregon County cougar’s relationship to mountain lions from other areas.
One of the more intriguing but still unexplained twists to Missouri’s recent mountain lion sightings is the fact that a cougar photographed with a trail camera Dec. 29 in Linn County appears to have been wearing a radio-tracking collar. The shape of the collar’s antenna suggests that it is a VHF transmitter, rather than one of the newer GPS collars that enable wildlife researchers to track animals’ movements continuously via satellites.
“I have made a lot of calls to other states trying to identify that animal, but so far my only lead is a missing, collared, subadult male from Utah. That would be one heck of a move – but not impossible,” said Beringer.
He noted that collars of the type the Linn County mountain lion was wearing have a short range, and their batteries eventually wear out. The transmitter might have been out of service before the cat left the area where it was collared, leaving the researcher who was tracking it unaware of its departure.
MANAGING PREDATORS
The March 9 sighting brings the number of verified Missouri mountain lion reports to 16. The first of these modern-day sightings was in 1994. Prior to that, the last confirmed sighting dates back to when the species was extirpated, in the early 20th century.
Confirmed cougar sightings have been infrequent in recent decades. The spate of six confirmed sightings in four months surprised even experts like Beringer. He said the uptick in sightings could be a hint of things to come.
“Nebraska went from where we are now – having occasional verified sightings of dispersing animals – to having a breeding population in the space of 10 years. Young male mountain lions are the ones that most often leave their home areas, but I think it is realistic to expect that females will arrive here eventually. We need to be thinking about what we will do if mountain lions establish a breeding population here at some point in the future.”
Beringer noted that what is happening with mountain lions today is similar to what has been happening with bears for several decades. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission restored black bears (Ursus americanus) to that state starting in 1958. As bears filled up suitable habitat in Arkansas, a few individuals began dispersing north into Missouri. Today, the Show-Me State has a breeding population of bears, and MDC is developing strategies for managing the species.
MDC’s current policy regarding mountain lions, approved by the Missouri Conservation Commission in 2006, is not to encourage the establishment of a breeding population of mountain lions. The state’s Wildlife Code protects mountain lions. However, it also allows people to kill any mountain lion that is attacking or killing livestock or domestic animals or threatening human safety. Anyone who kills a mountain lion must report it to MDC immediately and turn over the intact carcass, including the pelt, within 24 hours.
The same applies to wolves and bears.
“The return of these long-absent predators is exciting to many Missourians,” said Beringer, “but it is frightening to others. Much of the fear is simply due to unfamiliarity. These animals are naturally shy of people and seldom cause problems, even in states that have thriving breeding populations.”
Beringer said contrasting the frequency of mountain lion attacks with more familiar dangers helps put the risk in perspective. For example, more than 50,000 people die in automobile accidents in the United States annually, and 86 people are killed by lightning. In contrast, deaths from mountain lion attacks have averaged one every seven years since 1890.
“Having mountain lions around again seems scarier than it really is because it’s new,” said Beringer. “But it would be a terrible pity if people let that keep them from enjoying the outdoors. We don’t let fear of traffic accidents or lightning keep us indoors. We shouldn’t let fear of predators scare us unnecessarily either.”
The Conservation Department set up the Mountain Lion Response Team in 1996 to track cougar sightings and investigate those instances where physical evidence – such as photos, video, footprints, scat or hair – exists. To report a sighting, contact any MDC office or conservation agent, or send email to mountain.lion@mdc.mo.gov.
Information about mountain lion and bear behavior and safety are available at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/3505 and www.mdc.mo.gov/node/3506.
-Jim Low-
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by Joe Jerek
Missouri Dep't. of Conservation
PHOTOS "Courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation"


JEFFERSON CITY Mo – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has just confirmed a mountain lion sighting in southern Linn County along the border of Chariton County. A landowner in the area contacted the MDC on Feb. 15 with two photos of a mountain lion taken Dec. 29 by a trail camera on his property.

“The photo is clearly of a mountain lion and we have confirmed the location,” said Jeff Beringer, resource scientist with the MDC’s Mountain Lion Response Team. “It may be wearing a radio collar based on what appears to be an antenna extending from the cat’s neck.”

The Linn County location is about 25 miles from where a mountain lion was shot and killed in Macon County on Jan. 22. This latest confirmed sighting makes five confirmed reports of a mountain lion in Missouri since November and 15 confirmed reports over the past 16 years.

Beringer said that it appears these mountain lions are young males roaming from other states in search of territory.

“It is very difficult to determine exactly where these individual cats are coming from, but we do know that young male mountain lions go in search of new territories at about 18 months of age and during this time of year,” he explained. “And it makes sense that these big cats could roam into Missouri from the west and use the Missouri river and other river corridors to move throughout the state without being easily detected.”

He added that mountain-lion populations in other states such as Texas, Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska are growing and that young males are dispersing eastward. Recent confirmed sightings in Nebraska have increased from five in 2004 to more than 30 in 2010.

Beringer said that MDC has no evidence to suggest that a breeding population of mountain lions exists in Missouri, and that MDC has never stocked or released mountain lions in Missouri and has no plans to do so.

Mountain lions are nocturnal, secretive and generally avoid contact with humans.

“We have no documented cases in Missouri of mountain lions attacking livestock, people or pets,” he said. “There is a much greater risk of harm from automobiles, stray dogs and lightning strikes than from mountain lions.”

Beringer explained that the MDC’s Mountain Lion Response Team gets hundreds of calls and emails each year from people who believe they have seen mountain lions. When there is some type of physical evidence, the team investigates.

“More than 90 percent of these investigations turn out to be bobcats, house cats, or dogs,” he said. “Our investigations involving claims of pets or livestock being attacked by mountain lions typically turn out to be the work of dogs. And most of the photos we get of mountain lions turn out to be doctored photographs circulating on the Internet.”

Mountain lions (Puma concolor), also called cougars, panthers and pumas, were present in Missouri before pioneer settlement. The last documented Missouri mountain lion was killed in the Bootheel in 1927. The closest populations of mountain lions to Missouri are in South Dakota and a small population in northwest Nebraska.

Mountain lions are a protected species in the state under the Wildlife Code of Missouri. The Code does allow the killing of any mountain lion attacking or killing livestock or domestic animals or threatening human safety. The incident must be reported to the MDC immediately and the intact carcass, including the pelt, must be surrendered to the MDC within 24 hours.

Two recent mountain lion shootings in Macon and Ray counties did not result in charges against the individuals involved because of threats to human safety. A 1994 case involving the shooting of a mountain lion in Carter County for no justifiable reason resulted in the individuals being prosecuted and fined.

“Each situation must be investigated and reviewed on a case-by-case basis and evaluated on its own merit,” explained Beringer. “The Department does not condone the indiscriminate shooting of mountain lions. We acknowledge that people have the right to protect themselves and their property, but simply seeing a mountain lion does not automatically mean there is a threat. We expect people to exercise good judgment and try to avoid confrontations with all wildlife, including mountain lions. Given a chance, mountain lions almost always withdraw from human contact.”

To report a sighting, physical evidence or other mountain-lion incident, contact a local MDC office or conservation agent, or email the Mountain Lion Response Team at mountain.lion@mdc.mo.gov.

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Mountain Lion Hunting in Chesterfield, MO

Everyone is talking about the Mountain Lion that was sighted in the sleepy St. Louis, Missouri suburb of Chesterfield.

BigHeadRon decides to take matters into his own hands and sets out to capture the elusive beast. With the help of an iPhone App for Mountain Lion tracking he searches the West St. Louis county for the Big Cat and finds a real treasure.

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Another mountain lion killed, officials say don't be concerned
01.26.2011

Hunters shot and killed a mountain lion over the weekend in the Missouri town of La Plata.

La Plata sits on Highway 63 between Macon and Kirksville.

A group of hunters looking for coyotes Saturday instead came within 20 yards of the mountain lion, and shot and killed the animal.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says it happened on land owned by an Amish man.

State officials estimate the mountain lion weighed 130 pounds. It was the second mountain lion killed in Missouri this month and 
the fourth Missouri sighting of a mountain lion -- also known as a cougar, puma or panther -- since November.

The killing of the mountain lion in La Plata comes just 10 days after a stationary wildlife camera in Chesterfield caught images of a mountain lion.


The Missouri Department of Conservation isn't yet sure if it is a wild mountain lion or if it belongs to one of the 32 people in the state who have permits to keep captive mountain lions, said Joe Jerek, a spokesman for the department.
READ MORE



 

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Camera captures mountain lion in Chesterfield

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Friday, January 21, 2011
 BY STEPHEN DEERE and PATRICK M. O'CONNELL www.STLtoday.com 

CHESTERFIELD • It's impossible to mistake the big cat in the grainy black and white pictures — not with that distinct patch of white hair at its mouth, the muscled jaw line, bulging shoulders and sleek profile.
Call it a cougar, puma or panther.
The question is: What's it doing in Chesterfield?
The Missouri Department of Conservation isn't quite sure, but most likely the mountain lion was just passing through in search of territory or a mate.
The pictures taken Jan. 12 from a stationary wildlife camera mark the first confirmed sighting in St. Louis County since 1994, and the 13th in the state.
The department hasn't ruled out that the cougar might belong to one of the 32 people in the state who have permits to keep captive mountain lions. It's checking with them, conservation spokesman Joe Jerek said.
In the pictures, the cat is making its way around a tree. Its head is slung low, eyes set aglow from the camera's flash. You can't tell the lion's sex or age, the department said.
Although cougar sightings are rare, there have been three in the state since November. The other two were in rural Platte and Ray counties north of Kansas City. Jerek noted that both of those were also near the Missouri River, and it's likely the cougars were simply following the river.
The camera that captured the images of the mountain lion was set up by Chesterfield resident Garrett Jensen, a hunter and outdoors enthusiast. Jensen installed the Reconyx HC600 camera on a tree to monitor wildlife in the woods behind his home near Olive Boulevard and White Road.
The camera, which is triggered by heat and movement, automatically snapped a series of photos about 2:30 a.m. on Jan 12. Jensen was out of town at the time and discovered the images after he returned home and retrieved the memory card and combed through 2,000 shots.
Jensen said conservation officials told him the cat appeared to have weighed about 120 pounds. A Missouri Wildlife Response Team at the site Wednesday did not find any tracks — snow on the ground when the cat appeared had melted — or fur but were still hopeful of finding a DNA sample from the woods, Jensen said.
Jensen installed the wildlife camera only six days before the mountain lion appeared. He picked the location based on the presence of several wildlife trails. The spot is between his home and a lake, making it a popular crossroads for creatures big and small.
In addition to the mountain lion, Jensen's camera captured shots of countless deer, squirrels, raccoons and a coyote. Jensen said he put up the camera to see if he would have any success bow-hunting deer on his property.
READ MORE
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Hunter admits he killed mountain lion

 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


RICHMOND (AP) — Missouri officials said a hunter has admitted that he shot and killed a mountain lion earlier this month.


A cattleman in western Missouri’s Ray County initially claimed to have shot the 115-pound cat Jan. 2. Mountain lions are a protected species that may be killed only if they attack or kill livestock or domestic animals or threaten human safety.


But the Department of Conservation said yesterday the cattleman has retracted the claim, and 29-year-old James McElwee of Camden has admitted the shooting.


The agency said no charges will be filed because McElwee feared for his life after his dogs treed the mountain lion while he was hunting raccoons. The cattleman had offered to take responsibility after McElwee and his father-in-law told him about killing the animal.


The cat was Missouri’s 12th confirmed mountain lion sighting since 1994.
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Jan. 5, 2011
Missouri has another confirmed sighting of a mountain lion. 
And this time, there's a body to prove it.

The state Department of Conservation says a mountain lion was shot and killed Sunday night by a farmer in northwest Missouri's Ray County.

The animal was a young male that showed no sign of having been held in captivity. It weighed 115 pounds and was a little over six-and-a-half feet from its nose to the tip of its tail. Dogs had forced the mountain lion into a tree near where cattle were grazing.

The Ray County cat is Missouri's 12th confirmed mountain lion sighting since 1994. The Conservation Department says genetic testing will help determine if it's the same animal that was photographed in November by a landowner in nearby Platte County.
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