Large predators such as mountain lions, gray wolves, and black bears were once a regular part of the great Kansas outdoors. They’re gone now, though, right?
Maybe not. In recent years, all three of these species, once extirpated from our state, have shown up within Kansas borders.
Over the next three weeks, we’ll take a look at confirmed reports of mountain lions, gray wolves, and black bears in Kansas. First up, mountain lions.
Mountain lions (more properly known as cougars) once roamed across much of the United States. Hunting and a decline in available prey, however, slowly pushed them out of the Midwest and into the Rocky Mountains and the Black Hills of South Dakota. The last mountain lion sighting in Kansas occurred in 1904 in Ellis County.
Now they’re back.
- November 7, 2007: Young male shot near Medicine Lodge in Barber County.
- March 2009: Young male raised at a wildlife rehab facility near Estes Park, CO, wandered across western Kansas for nearly a month, mostly following the Smoky Hill and Arkansas rivers. It was tracked by a GPS transmitter collar that it was wearing. It eventually left the state and traveled to New Mexico.
- October 29, 2009: Photographed northwest of WaKeeney, Trego County.
- October 19, 2010: Photographed in Courtland, Republic County.
- December 7, 2010: Photographed in Nemaha County.
- December 15, 2010: Carcass of male mountain lion taken or reported in Osborne County.
- November 9, 2011: Photographed in Atchison County.
- November 14, 2011: Tracks found in Atchison County. These were probably from the same mountain lion photographed a few days before.
- January 18, 2012: Tracks found in Washington County.
- October 31, 2012: Photographed in Stafford County.
- October 22, 2014: Photographed in Labette County.
- August 3, 2015: Photographed near Webster in Rooks County.
- August 15, 2015: Photographed near Hays in Ellis County. Experts believe that this could the same animal from Rooks County, based on travel distance and direction.
- August 23, 2015: Photographed near Great Bend in Barton County. Possibly the same animal reported in Rooks and Ellis counties.
- September 24, 2015: Photographed near Argonia, Sumner County. This could be the same mountain lion photographed several times in August. The family had reported seeing tracks and the actual animal prior to capturing the photo on a trail camera.
- October 23, 2015: Young mountain lion found dead in a shed near Dodge City. Although it had caught its head in a tiller, it appeared to be in extremely poor health prior to the incident.
- Mid-September, 2016: Photographed by a hunter’s trail camera in Rawlins County.
- November 9, 2016: Photographed by a hunter’s trail camera at Fort Riley.
- November 20, 2016: Photographed by a hunter’s trail camera in Shawnee County.
- November 24, 2016: Treed by coonhound and videoed by hunters in Wabaunsee County.
- January 31, 2019: Reported in Rooks County by upland game bird hunters as found dead to a Kansas game warden. Subsequent investigation revealed that the hunters shot it after it had threatened the group and their dogs. Although initially reported by KDWPT as female, necropsy revealed that the mountain lion was actually male.
- Late November, 2020: Photographed by a trail camera in Kiowa County.
Where Did They Come From?
Most of these sightings have been young males, probably looking for mates after being displaced by older, more dominant males. An increase in mountain lion populations in the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountains may have contributed to the recent sightings in Kansas. A few biologists, however, maintain that the mountain lions could actually be coming from the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.
So far there are no reports of mountain lions breeding within Kansas. Still, experts now acknowledge that given the state’s sizable deer population and areas of suitable habitat, at least along streams, it is possible that cougars could expand their range and once again establish a small but permanent presence within our borders.
How to Identify a Mountain Lion
It’s hard to believe that anyone could mistake a mountain lion for anything else, but it happens frequently. More than one person has seen a house cat, bobcat, large dog, or deer and identified it as a cougar. If you think you’re looking at a mountain lion, check for the following:
- Large size. Compare the animal in question to surrounding objects to gauge its height and length. The mountain lions seen in Kansas tend to be young and therefore a little on the small side, but they are still much larger than bobcats or house cats.
- Uniform color. Mountain lions are tawny all over, while bobcats have spots and streaks.
- Long tail. One look at that distinctive tail can separate the mountain lion from all other similar animals.
- Unique tracks. The mountain lion leaves clawless tracks like other felines. However, it can still be distinguished from the bobcat by its unique track shape. For one thing, a mountain lion’s tracks are much larger. For another thing, it has a lobed heel pad, unlike the round heel pad of the bobcat.
Although this interactive map is now outdated, it does help you see past mountain lion sightings at a glance.
Mountain Lion Confirmed in Labette County
Includes a photograph.
Mountain Lion Signs
How to identify a mountain lion without seeing it by examining tracks, sounds, and kill evidence.