Mountain lion sighting confirmed in Nebraska

Associated Press • May 16, 2008

OMAHA, Neb. – Nebraska officials Friday confirmed the sighting of a mountain lion in northeast Nebraska last weekend – the first confirmed sighting since 2004.

Tom Welstead of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission said commission experts in Lincoln had checked his report and a photograph and agreed: What Ron Olson had seen Sunday was indeed a mountain lion.

Olson, who lives in Verdigre, said he had been hunting mushrooms in the Lazy River Acres area of Knox County, between Verdel and the Missouri River, just southwest of Springfield, S.D.

“I was walking this trail I had made, hunting for mushrooms, when I came across a deer carcass that hadn’t been there before,” Olson said in a Norfolk Daily News story Thursday. “I kind of looked around and didn’t see anything. When I turned around, just to my left, there stood a mountain lion.”

Olson was between the cat and its kill, he said, but it just walked away.

He hiked back out of the woods and found his brother-in-law and a friend.

They took a game surveillance camera back to the spot. They set it up near the carcass and left it. When they returned on Monday, the camera had taken four photos of the cougar.

Welstead, who is northeast Nebraska’s manager of the commission’s wildlife management section, said he talked with two of the men as part of the confirmation protocol and sent the photos to Lincoln along with his report.

It’s not his first report of a cougar, which are interchangeably called mountain lions, pumas, panthers or catamounts in various parts of the nation.

“I’ve received lots of reports,” he said. “I think most of those are false reports. Many of them I don’t find any evidence at all – I can’t prove them right or wrong.

“The last one that we can verify was the cougar that we had to shoot in South Sioux City about three years ago.”

On Nov. 23, 2004, a Dakota County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a 120-pound cougar that was perched in a tree on the northwest edge of South Sioux City.

Cougars once roamed over much of what became United States. Despite modern man’s encroachment and the loss of habitat, experts say, cougars still range from the Yukon in Canada to the Andes in South America.

Sam Wilson, nongame mammal and fur bearer program manager for Game and Parks, said the first modern confirmation of a Nebraska cougar sighting came in 1991. Confirmations have hit 51 since – the vast majority in the Wildcat Hills and Pine Ridge areas of the Panhandle.

The cats seen in Nebraska likely came from South Dakota, Wilson said, but could also have come from the other bordering states of Wyoming and Colorado.

Wilson said the total of 51 could be misleading because the same animal could have been sighted more than once.

The South Dakota Black Hills cougar population climbed rapidly through the 1990s, he said, to the saturation point. In 2005, the state began to allow limited hunting of the cats.

South Dakota game officials say about half of the adult females in the Black Hills give birth each year, adding 62 to 78 lions to the population.

The department’s 2008 estimate of the Black Hills cougar population is 280 – 70 more than last year’s estimate of 210.

The current estimate includes 33 to 43 adult males, 90 to 114 breeding females and 97 to 127 dependent young.

The older, dominant male cougars evict the younger males from their territories, Wilson said. The younger ones must then look elsewhere for mates.

“If they head east, they just keep running because there aren’t any females,” Wilson said, because the females’ ranges can overlap their mothers."

Sometimes the males’ searches lead them into the dangers of civilization.

Biologists have confirmed that a cougar shot to death by Chicago police last month got there by way of Wisconsin. More tests are being done to confirm whether he came from South Dakota.

In November 2005, a 100-pound male was found dead along Interstate 80 near the Gretna-Louisville exit west of Omaha.

In October 2003, a 108-pound male was found walking through a park deep inside Omaha city limits. It was captured after being hit with a tranquilizer dart and wounded by a shotgun blast. It was taken in by the Omaha zoo.