Hunter or hunted? That’s what Kurt Keesling must have been thinking when he started checking the footage from one of his game cameras posted three miles east of St. John and saw a large lanky mountain lion on one of the frames.
“I always get several pictures of deer and all the wildlife,” Keesling told reporters “But I wasn’t expecting that when I went through the pictures.”
He hadn’t checked the camera for several weeks, and the photo was taken in October, but there was no doubt about the identification. The time stamp on the camera recorded the shot was taken at 4:09 a.m., Oct. 31.
Officials from the Pratt office of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism wildlife biologist visited the site Nov. 16 and confirmed the photo’s validity. This is the first report documented in Kansas since last January when tracks of a mountain lion were found in Washington County.
Keesling’s photograph is the ninth confirmed sighting of mountain lions in Kansas since 2007 with most sightings occurring in northeastern Kansas according to Matt Peek, a biologist with the department and an expert on the state’s mountain lions.
“It’s definitely a mountain lion in the picture,” Peek said.
He also stated he wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t more confirmed sightings in the future. It appears more mountain lions are migrating through the Midwest.
Mountain lions also known as cougars populated the area, but their numbers declined around the turn of the century due to the lack of prey and hunting, according to a study released earlier this year by the Journal of Wildlife Management.
The study revealed 178 confirmed mountain lions in the Midwest, with the number increasing steadily between 1990 and 2008.
According to Peek, the mountain lion in the photo is probably long gone, stating that the animals travel hundreds of miles.
According to ongoing research by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, dispersing mountain lions, which are primarily young males, feed mostly on medium-sized animals such as raccoons, raptors, coyotes, and turkeys. They feed on deer less frequently, which take days to consume and likely hinder their movement across the landscape as they search of the opposite sex and an area in which to establish a permanent home range. There is no evidence of a resident population of mountain lions in Kansas.
Keesling told reporters he had been a skeptic in the past when people told him they’d seen mountain lions.
“I’ve spent as much time in a tree stand as anybody,” he said.
Remote game cameras have been responsible for five of the nine Kansas mountain lion confirmations.
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