Mountain lions were wiped out in Missouri back in the late 1920s and since, the state's Department of Conservation (MDC) sees about 5 to 10 per year. But lately, there's been a spike in mountain lion sightings in Missouri, with 14 spotted in 2023. The most recent was quite the rare sighting: Photographs from mid-September show a mountain lion feeding on a cow elk carcass in Shannon County, Missouri, in the northeastern corner of the Ozark Mountain Range.
The images were captured on a trail camera set up by the Mountain Lion Response Team of the MDC. The dead elk had been identified by a nearby resident, who startled a mountain lion that was eating the carcass when they approached the downed elk. The MDC was notified, and the organization sent a biologist to the site.
Trail cameras were set up in hopes that the mountain lion would return to the site. Luckily, the cat came back to finish its meal later that afternoon, providing some incredible game camera photographs of the healthy-looking cat chowing down on the elk carcass. Due to the wounds on the elk, the MDC believes the cat took down the elk himself.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), this is the first mountain lion sighting of the year in southern Missouri, however, there have been several in the northern areas of the state this year, bringing the total up to 117 confirmed mountain lion sightings in Missouri in the last 25 years.
The MDC estimates that they have received thousands of mountain lion sighting reports since 1994; less than 1% have actually been mountain lions. Dogs, bobcats, house cats, coyotes, foxes, and dogs have all been mistaken for mountain lions. Despite this, 117 confirmed sightings are a lot of a state whose stance is that there is no known population of mountain lions that are reproducing and living in the state year-round.
A female mountain lion was detected in 2016, increasing the chance that mountain lion breeding could happen in the state. Presently, all confirmed sightings have been male or of an unknown sex. Some of the mountain lion sightings appear to be subadults, who may be dispersing from their usual range. The increase in sightings is thought to be due to a healthier environment for mountain lions in the state.
Mountain lions used to live across Missouri, but were wiped out in 1927. The return of mountain lions to the state is incredibly exciting. Though often feared, mountain lions are by and large reclusive animals who stay as far from humans as possible. There have only been 27 recorded fatal mountain lion attacks since the 1800s, and according to the Mountain Lion Foundation, you are more likely to drown in your bathtub or be killed by a pet dog than you are to be killed by a mountain lion.
If you do encounter a mountain lion, be it in Missouri or elsewhere, remain calm and don't run or bend down. Speak in a firm voice, and if the mountain lion continues to approach, throw rocks in the direction of the cat as warning shots. If the mountain lion attacks you, try to remain standing and fight back.
Enjoy the outdoors?
Sign up for daily stories delivered straight to your inbox.