JEFFERSON CITY, MO. For the second time in 10 months, a Missouri motorist has struck a mountain lion on a major highway -- growing proof that wild cougars may be making a comeback in Missouri, state officials said Tuesday.
The 105-pound adult male mountain lion was hit late Monday on a four-lane stretch of U.S. Highway 54 near Fulton by an unidentified motorist who left the scene but later called the Callaway County Sheriff's Office saying she thought she had hit a dog that might still be alive.
Law officers arrived to find a dead cougar on the southbound shoulder of the highway. Last October, another male mountain lion was struck on Interstate 35 in north Kansas City.
Mountain lions, once indigenous to Missouri, were killed off by settlers in the 1800s and early 1900s. From 1927 to 1994, there were no confirmed mountain lion sightings in the state.
But in the past nine years, the Missouri Department of Conservation has confirmed eight sightings of at least seven different mountain lions, including the one killed Monday night.
All indications are that the mountain lion killed Monday night had been living in the wild for some time, although it's unclear if it migrated to Missouri or was released or escaped from captivity. There are 41 people licensed to own mountain lions in the state.
Dave Hamilton, a biologist with the Conservation Department, believes the wild mountain lions may be migrating from South Dakota, Colorado or Texas.
A western origination seems most likely, because mountain lion populations are strong there and young males have been known to travel hundreds of miles -- often along waterways such as the Missouri River -- to stake out their own territory, Hamilton said.
"We can say we have mountain lions roaming in Missouri without a doubt," he said. "Right now, we don't believe we have a breeding population in the state of Missouri. There's no evidence that's happening ... But I suspect it will."
In Kansas, reports of mountain lion sightings have buzzed around Lawrence since the reported sighting Thursday evening on Kansas University's west campus by World Online editor Dave Toplikar. After an account of the sighting appeared in Saturday's Journal-World, nearly a dozen people have called the newspaper to tell about their own close encounters with large, unidentified animals.
The sightings include two people who also claim to have seen mountain lions in the past year on or near west campus. One man told the newspaper he hit one with his car.