Conservation Corner

Conservation Corner by Chad Morrow Mountain lion facts

YES, mountain lions live in South Dakota. They are more commonly found in the Black Hills and western South Dakota, but may also be observed traveling through the eastern part of the state.

Preferred mountain lion habitat includes steep, rugged terrain with understory similar to landscape found in the Black Hills and along major river systems in South Dakota.

The mountain lion, North America's largest cat, is usually tawny to light cinnamon in color with black-tipped ears and tail. The lion's scientific name is Felis concolor and they are commonly known as cougar, puma, or panther. Mountain lions are at the top of the food chain and their only natural enemies include other large predators such as bears and wolves.

Although mountain lions vary in size and weight, adult males may be more than eight feet in length, including the tail, and weigh an average of 150 pounds. Adult females may be approximately seven feet long and weigh an average of 90 pounds.

Until last year the mountain lion was on the South Dakota's threatened species list. In order to provide further protection, the S.D. Legislature and Game, Fish, and Parks reclassified the mountain lion as a big game animal without an established season. Mountain lions still receive full protection under South Dakota state law. The only time a citizen can legally kill a mountain lion is if a human life is threatened.

Last month, a mountain lion was observed in the Yankton city limits. In that situation, Game, Fish, and Parks and Yankton Police Department officers followed protocol and euthanized the animal due to substantial public risk. The origin of the Yankton mountain lion is not yet known, but will hopefully be determined after DNA testing concludes.

One of the most common questions I receive is how to tell the difference between a mountain lion track and tracks left by a dog or coyote. Here are some tips to help you identify whether the track was left by a mountain lion or a dog.

Dog tracks will have obvious claw prints present while there will be no claw prints in a mountain lion track since mountain lions, like other cats, have retractable claws. Another distinguishing characteristic to look for is the differences in the shape of the rear pad. A mountain lion track will have an M-shaped pad with three distinct lobes, whereas a track left by a dog or coyote will have two distinct lobes on its rear pad.

Because mountain lions prefer to avoid people, the chance of encountering a mountain lion is extremely rare in South Dakota, but it is possible. Here is a list of things to do if you would happen to encounter a mountain lion.

* Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

* Stay calm, talk firmly and back away slowly. Do not run. Running may stimulate a lion's instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.

* Do everything you can to appear larger. Raise your arms or open your jacket if your wearing one. You want to do everything you can to convince the lion that you are not prey and that you may be a threat to it. Also, if the lion behaves aggressively look around for anything you can get your hands on to throw, such as stones or branches.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about anything please feel free to give me a call anytime � 677-6950.

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