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female lion in southeast Nebraska

Posted: Sun Apr 24, 2016 11:50 pm
by Emily ... -counties/

CHADRON, Nebraska – A female mountain lion has been detected in southeast Nebraska for the first time.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wildlife biologists have known about a big cat roaming the Missouri River bluffs in Nemaha and Richardson Counties for more than a year. Trail cameras set out by the commission and landowners have captured images of a cougar.

Genetic testing of blood apparently from a cougar’s paw found in a snowy track is evidence a female was in the far southeastern tip of the state in January, Sam Wilson, the commission’s Lincoln-based carnivore program manager, said Friday.

The finding is significant because it means there is the potential for a breeding pair of mountain lions roughly 550 roaming miles from the heart of the state’s cougar country in northwest Nebraska’s Pine Ridge. Footloose mountain lions typically are young males in search of mates and new territory.

“It’s noteworthy,’’ Wilson told a Game and Parks commissioners meeting at Chadron State Park.

Wilson also said the Pine Ridge population of cats appears to be resilient, despite a spike in deaths from accidents and legal and illegal hunting in 2014.

The Pine Ridge had an estimated 33 adult, subadult and kitten cougars during the period of May through July last year, according to Wilson’s research. Previous scat studies indicated the Pine Ridge hosted a maximum likely population of 22 cougars. The estimate at the time of Nebraska’s first and only mountain lion hunting season in 2014 ranged from 16 to 37 lions.

Populations continually change over time due to births, deaths and animals entering or leaving an area. There are resident populations in the Niobrara River Valley and Wildcat Hills, and additional cats elsewhere in the state. There are no estimates of the number of cats in those populations.

Wilson revealed the discovery of the southeast female during a status review of a multi-year research study of mountain lions in Nebraska.

Wilson had seen numerous trail camera photos of a cougar in southeast Nebraska since early last year. One day in January, he followed cougar tracks in snow for hours before coming across spots of blood in a paw print. He suspects a pad on one of the cat’s paws was bleeding from a minor injury.

The blood sample determined the cat was female, but there wasn’t enough genetic material to make any further identification.

Wilson said it isn’t known whether the lion he tracked was the same one captured in photographs during the last year. Trail cameras in the area continue to capture images of a cougar, he said.

The roaming cat is a candidate for trapping and outfitting with a GPS collar, Wilson said. Biologists have trapped 21 mountain lions in the Pine Ridge and Wildcat Hills of the Nebraska Panhandle since early last year. Ten are now collared and tracked for research.

Researchers have been capturing cougars periodically since February 2015. The cats are sedated briefly. Before the drug is reversed and the animal darts away, biologists secure a GPS collar, take hair samples for DNA analysis, determine gender and estimate age and condition of health. Captured kittens are outfitted with ear tags.

Tracking data helps biologists create new population estimates and understand the cats’ movements and habitat preferences.

Wilson said research results are not yet sufficient to make major policy decisions, which include the possibility of future cougar-hunting seasons. The Nebraska Legislature has rejected attempts by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers in recent sessions to try to take away the commission’s ability to establish a hunting season.

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Omaha World-Herald (NE)