Mountain lions, contrary to the name, are not found only in the mountains. They once roamed all over the United States, but hunters wiped them out in nearly all Midwest and Eastern U.S. states. A species still exists in the wild areas of Florida, and is called the Florida panther. Attacks on humans are relatively rare; in fact, dog attacks actually lead to more deaths for humans than mountain lion attacks. However, when they do attack, it's almost always with the intent to kill. In the spring of 2011, a mountain lion was very unexpectedly spotted crossing Highway 22 in Kentucky. This is a very rare occurrence, but in the future, mountain lion sightings in this area could possibly become more the norm.
Known by many names from puma to cougar, the mountain lion or mountain cat likes to roam over large expanses of land. Territories of the male cats can rage over 300 square miles. With the expansion of civilization, mountain lions have lost much of their habitat. As humans encroach on its territory, the mountain lion becomes displaced and must search for new territory. It was once thought that the mountain lion inhabited only 13 states in the United States, but sightings of mountain lions have been reported in many of the 50 states, including Kentucky. It's quite possible that the mountain lion is trying to recolonize in states where it was assumed they had disappeared for good.
In Kentucky, mountain lions, despite being considered endangered, can be killed without a permit, because they are not native to the area. Unfortunately, as food sources become more scarce for the wild cats, they are forced to forge into new territories in search of nourishment. Typically, a mountain lion will eat white tailed and mule deer or smaller animals, as they are carnivores. Small pets and livestock can easily become a new food source as people move into areas where mountain lions live.
Looking for Signs
A mountain lion will strike quickly and viciously after stalking its prey. It's important to look for evidence of the animals before they attack. Sightings, such as the one in Kentucky on the highway, should be reported to a local Department of Natural Resources or Conservation Department. Paw prints in the mud or dirt, scratches or scrape marks on trees or other wooden areas, piles of leaves in a mound that have been urinated on or mountain lion feces are all legitimate signs that a mountain lion is in the area.
What to Do
As mountain lions continue to explore areas inhabited by people, it's a good idea to know what to do in case you sight one. John Dinon, the head of the Cincinnati Zoo's Conservation Program, was not surprised that there were several sightings of a mountain lion in Kentucky. He suggests that steering clear of the wild cat is wise. Mountain lions are elusive and don't tend to attack unless they are hungry or threatened. If attacked, running will only encourage the mountain lion to chase. Instead, stand tall and fight back, attempting to face the cat if at all possible. Dinon wasn't convinced that the mountain lion sightings meant that more cats would come into the area any time soon. Only time will tell.
- Desert USA; Mountain Lion/Cougar Attacks; Jay Sharp; May 1996
- "Portsmouth Daily Times"; McDermott Man Says Mountain Lions are Here; G Sam Piatt; May 2011
- "Listening to Cougar"; Marc Bekoff and Cara Blessley Lowe; 2007
- "Mountain Lion"; Rebecca L. Grambo; 1999
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images