Monday, May 18, 2015

Not As Many As You See

   This mountain lion track was found within a few yards of the restroom at the Fairfield launching ramp on Truman Lake last fall.  The big cat was walking, with about 28 inches between his tracks. 
He had eaten some fresh fish cleanings the night before at the water's edge.  The general shape, (width and height), of the track tells an experienced outdoorsman the difference in a feline and canine track, but the lack of fixed claws showing in a track in mud tells the observer this is not a canine track.

The mountain lion isn't a chaser he is a waiter.  My grandfather showed me where a "panther" as he called them, had waited for a deer along a Big Piney tributary.


      I was listening to a radio station in the Ozarks a few days ago when I heard a lady talking about a mountain lion being killed in Laclede county after being hit by a car.  I know this sounds unbelievable, but this is how she finished the story…

       “Media specialist   _______ ______ for the Missouri Department of Conservation states that increased sightings of mountain lions in the state does not necessarily mean there are more mountain lions!”

       I could hear country people all over the Ozarks laughing about that.  What sense does that make?  If you are seeing more turkeys in the field behind your house, should you assume that doesn’t mean there are not any more turkeys than there were a few years ago when you saw half as many?

       For some reason, people in the MDC have always played down the fact that mountain lions are in the Ozarks. They had this official policy for years that there were none of the big cats in Missouri, and if any existed at all they were escaped pets.

       About ten years ago I wrote a column about how I was on the Big Piney River with my grandfather in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in 1960 when we came across mountain lion tracks in the snow, pursuing a fleeing whitetail deer.  We back-tracked him, and found where the big cat jumped from the limb of a large oak tree growing up beside ledge that hung over a cave we were looking for.   The deer had passed a little too far away, and the deer and cat both had crossed the river full throttle.  Grandpa told me that if the mountain lion didn’t get a deer within a few yards of where he jumped down, he likely wouldn’t get it.

       At least two dozen times since that day, I have seen mountain lion tracks, most of them along waterways in Missouri or Arkansas. And I have seen several live mountain lions, though most were in Arkansas.  Every mountain lion I ever saw was either at night or right at dusk.  There were always some here in the Ozarks… always.

       After that column, a writer for the MDC out of Jefferson City wrote an answer to it stating that I was someone who couldn’t be depended on to write accurate accounts of the outdoors.  He said again that the MDC was confident there were no mountain lions in Missouri.
       A few months later, the Department of Conservation changed their ‘policy’ and stated that wild mountain lions did indeed exist in the Ozarks.  One day we didn’t have any, and the next day, because of their proclamation, we did!  The writer for the MDC owed me an apology, but it never came.

       They actually owed an apology to hundreds of Missourians who called them to report seeing mountain lions over the years, citizens whom they derided for those reports.  Most people you talk to who call in any kind of reports of something they have seen, are ridiculed a little by those who see themselves as authorities on the outdoors, and many of them are without the knowledge to make any judgements on what anyone else might have seen.
       Too many of today’s authorities within the Department spent little time outdoors.  They live in their offices and they just go along with what the books tell them.  I can give you many instances when what you learned from the books doesn’t jive with what you see outdoors.

       If I worked for the MDC and someone called in with the sighting of a prehistoric cave bear, I’ll be darned if I would make them feel like I thought they were an idiot.  What good does that do?  If you are such a state employee and someone tells you they saw a big cat, act very interested, thank them for their call and make them feel like you respect their intelligence.
       Don’t insult people who feel they are doing the right thing by telling you what they saw.  For the life of me, I wonder why the MDC has never figured out how dismissing people as ignorant hillbillies hurts them in the eyes of those who have been their supporters.  They do it constantly.
       A few years ago, after the MDC decided that the animal they were sure didn’t exist actually did exist, I talked on the phone with the man who identified himself as the leader of the department’s big cat team. I didn’t tell him who I was and he couldn’t care less, but our interview was laughable.  That man had spent his boyhood in a big city suburb and got his degree as a biologist in a big city college… the same one where I got mine.
       He made statements about mountain lions that merely echoed what he had been told, or read.  He told me something that he said a mountain lion in the Ozarks would never do, and he was dead wrong according to what I have actually witnessed.  When I told him that outdoor people who used the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ ought to spend more time outdoors, he got mad.

       The media specialist who stated that just because folks are seeing more mountain lions doesn’t mean there actually are more, lives in a city, works in a city office, and likely never ever saw a mountain lion outside of a zoo.

       He is the same person I took fishing twenty years ago who didn’t know what a bluegill was when he caught one.  But he is a heck of a nice guy, and I like him and that is the truth. I know that to keep his job, he must pass on what he has been told, as they tell him to say it, and you can’t blame him for that even though it seems like a heck of a waste of a life and a person’s talent just to get a paycheck.
       It is indeed possible that because there are more people in the world today that the mountain lion sightings have increased just because of that.  About ten years ago when the MDC wanted to thin what they refer to as the ‘deer herd’, they used figures showing how many more deer were being hit by cars.
       They never figured into their calculations the increase in automobiles. That was inconvenient to their pre-decided conclusions.  If ten percent more deer accidents were occurring, maybe the twenty percent increase in traffic had something to do with it. They didn’t think so. But now they think maybe the increased number of mountain lion sightings is because more of us can see better.

       I am just a tiny bit open-minded, so I will accept that.  And I am thinking that the increase in raccoons in my garden is simply because I am looking closer just because last year they ate all my corn!  Yeah, that’s it.  And the increase in armadillo sightings mean nothing.  They actually are declining in number.  We are just all seeing more of the ones that are left!

       By the way I saw my latest mountain lion track last fall at the Fairfield boat-launching ramp on Truman Lake, ten miles north of Wheatland. There were several clear big cat footprints in the mud there about ten yards from the bathroom, heading down toward the ramp, where the cleanings from a big catch of catfish were found against the bank.  Guess maybe he was a fish-eater.  I will have to call the MDC’s big cat expert and ask him about that.

       And though there are no more photos on my website than there has ever been, you can see them more often by going to   Write to me if you think you saw a mountain lion. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email

1 comment:

Alligator said...

I can remember when MDC denied that there were black bears in Missouri. If you saw a bear, you were mistaking a black lab etc. Then it became, "There are maybe a dozen bears but they are wanderers from Arkansas." I sat in a meeting in 1973 and listened to an MDC biologist explain why Missouri would never have a viable bear population. I told him there was no difference between the Ozarks in Arkansas and Missouri and I got a very cross look. It dawned on me: they wanted to play down bear sightings and allow them to repopulate naturally to avoid political fallout. Let people gradually get used to the idea of bears in the state. I could see MDC taking the same tack with mountain lions.