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Wildlife Species Guide

Mountain Lion

Wildlife Species Guide | Furbearers Guide | Observation Reports & Videos |
Description |Making a Report | Tracks | Encounters | Future | Literature


mountain lion

For information regarding Nebraska’s inaugural mountain lion hunting season set to begin in 2014, please see our mountain lion hunting page.

Although mountain lions were part of Nebraska's native fauna, they were extirpated by the end of the 19th century. Despite annual reports since the 1950s, no confirmed sighting was made in the state until the 1990s. In 1991 a deer was found killed by a mountain lion and shortly after an adult mountain lion was shot by a hunter near Harrison, in Sioux County.

In recent years, young male mountain lions have been seen across the state, and now there is evidence of females and kittens in the Pine Ridge area. Read an article from NEBRASKALand Magazine with text and photos by Michael Forsberg on the "Return of the Big Cats"

Mountain Lion Sightings

The map below lists only those observations that have been confirmed based on unambiguous evidence. The confirmations on the map do not necessarily represent individual mountain lions as a single mountain lion may be confirmed multiple times as it moves through the countryside.

Click Map Below for Larger Version


Wildfires and Puma Family - Sam Wilson



Mountain Lions in Nebraska Video - Sam Wilson



View Dick Turpin's video on an encounter with a Mountain Lion


Learn More: Mountain Lion Scat Study

The majority of confirmed mountain lion observation reports come from the panhandle area in close proximity to Colorado, Wyoming or South Dakota, all states with extant mountain lion populations. On the other hand, the majority of reports that could not be confirmed coincide with areas of high human population density. mountain lionTwo factors may be responsible for this clustering of unconfirmed reports in areas with denser human population. First, the more people live in an area the greater the number of possible observations and thus reports. Second, an initial report that becomes public (regardless of whether it is confirmed or not) can cause biases in future observers, thus potentially causing a chain reaction of additional observation reports. Bobcats, coyotes, dogs, and domestic cats are often mistaken for mountain lions. Despite these factors, mountain lion occurences in the central and eastern portions of the state are certainly possible. Animals may migrate using riparian corridors along streams and rivers and could remain unnoticed for long distances even in populated areas.

Description

Mountain lions (also called cougar, puma, panther, painter, catamount) vary in size and weight. Males (100 to 150 lbs.) are larger and heavier than females (55 to 90 lbs.). They are generally uniformly tan in color with a black tipped tail and darker spots behind the ears. Juveniles have dark spots and a dark-ringed tail until they are about 1 year of age.

Mountain lions occur in a variety of habitats, but prefer rougher, wooded areas. Prey abundance, especially deer, is probably the most essential component of mountain lion habitat. Mountain lions are most active from dusk to dawn, but will also move during the day. Deer are the choice prey but mountain lions will also prey on elk, bighorn sheep, small game, porcupines, and a variety of other species. After killing their prey, mountain lions often drag or carry the carcass under a bush or tree. After feeding, the carcass is often covered with litter to avoid detection by scavengers.

Other sign by which mountain lions can be identified are their tracks, feces, scrapes, and scratches on tree trunks.

Reporting a mountain lion observation

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is interested in verifying mountain lion observations in Nebraska. If you have evidence of a mountain lion (such as video, photo, tracks, feces, hair, etc.) please call your nearest NGPC office and we will investigate the observation. If you are not certain if the tracks you found are from a mountain lion, please consult the track comparison shown below. Cover the tracks with buckets to prevent destruction and inform the NGPC. If you take photos of sign, please include a ruler or pen in the picture for size reference.

If you encounter a possible mountain lion kill (deer or livestock), please leave the kill site undisturbed and inform your nearest NGPC office immediately. We will then attempt to record a possible revisitation and to identify the predator.

Track comparisons

Mountain lion
Bobcat
Coyote
Domestic dog

The images above show front tracks. Mountain lion front tracks are 3" to 4 1/4" long and 3 1/4" to 4 3/4" wide. Size alone cannot be used to distinguish mountain lion tracks as many dog tracks are as large or larger than mountain lion tracks. Claws usually do not register because they are retracted. Claw marks are usually (but not always) visible in coyote and dog tracks. The heal pad in cat tracks has two lobes in the front and three lobes in the back, while dog and coyote tracks show only one lobe in the front and two lobes in the back. The tracks from a small mountain lion and a large bobcat can be difficult to distinguish.

What to do in case of an encounter

  1. Do not approach a mountain lion.
  2. Leave the animal an avenue of escape.
  3. Stay calm, move slowly.
  4. Back away safely if you can. Do not turn your back to the lion or start running.
  5. Raise your arms or backpack to appear larger.
  6. Lift up your children to prevent them from running.
  7. If you are being attacked fight back. Mountain lion have been successfully driven off with bare hands. Use rocks, or whatever you can get your hands on. Try to remain on your feet or get back up if knocked down.
Due to their secretive nature and low density, mountain lions rarely interact with humans. Occasional interactions may occur with human infringement on natural areas and mountain lion immigration into populated areas with high deer densities.
Mountain lions are currently listed as a game species without a take season. As a result they may neither be hunted nor trapped.

Future

Considering the recent confirmed sightings of mountain lions and the large number of deer in the state, it is likely that additional mountain lions will be encountered in Nebraska. Individual animals and perhaps even a small population exist in the western portions of the state such as the Fort Robinson and Wildcat Hills areas. It is doubtful that a population will establish itself in areas where human population density and associated habitat disturbance is high. Encounters, however, in those areas are not impossible considering the large distances that individual animals, especially young males, can travel. In addition, it is possible that some animals were illegally released or escaped from captivity. A management plan will continue to provide protocols for handling a variety of situations involving mountain lions in Nebraska.

A combination of understanding and tolerance will allow us to coexist with mountain lions and prevent us from repeating the mistake of extirpating this magnificent feline from Nebraska once again.

Literature

Benedict, R.A., H.H. Genoways., and P.W. Freeman. 2000. Shifting distributional patterns of mammals in Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences. 26:55-84.

Jones, J.K. Jr. 1962. Early records of some mammals from Nebraska. Bulletin of the University of Nebraska State Museum. 4(6):88-99.

Jones, J.K. Jr. 1949. The occurrence of the mountain lion in Nebraska. Journal of Mammalogy. 30(3):313.

Jones, J.K. Jr.1964. Distribution and Taxonomy of Mammals of Nebraska. University of Kansas Publications. Museum of Natural History. 36:299-302.

Linnell, J.D.C., J. Odden,M.E. Smith, R. Aanes, and J.E. Swenson. 1999. Large carnivores that kill livestock: do "problem individuals" really exist? Wildlife Society Bulletin. 27(3)698-705.

Logan, K.A. and L.L. Irwin. 1985. Mountain lion habitats in the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 13:257-262.

Lindzey, F. 1987. In Novak, M., J.A. Baker, M.E. Obbard., and B. Malloch. Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America. p657-668

McKinney, B. 1996. A field guide to Texas mountain lions. Wildlife Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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