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Archive for Saturday, March 22, 2003

Mountain lion killed in crash probably wild

Tests show cougar was N. American

March 22, 2003

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— A mountain lion fatally hit last year by a freeway motorist probably was wild and not someone's pet, biologists say tests show.

The 100-pound cougar, killed last October, fed on deer and raccoon, according to microscopic tests of hair found in its digestive tract, state wildlife biologist Dave Hamilton said Thursday.

DNA tests performed at Central Michigan University showed the cougar was a North American type -- significant because many captive cougars are often of South American origin, Hamilton said.

Until the tests, officials were unsure whether the animal had been someone's pet.

"I think it was living on its own for a while, if not totally wild," said Hamilton, of the state Department of Conservation.

Mountain lions, also known as cougars, once were native to Missouri and neighboring Kansas, but the free-roaming animals vanished from the area in the 1800s.

A few documented cases of cougars living in the wild have surfaced in eastern Missouri in recent years, as wildlife habitat has rebounded in public conservation areas and private lands over the past century.

The male cougar was hit when it ran in front of a car at night on a freeway in north Kansas City. Police later found the injured animal in a back yard and shot it.

"House cats can live off the land, so it's possible for a once-captive cougar to do the same if they're equipped, and this one had claws and teeth," Hamilton said.

The cougar's lean build was typical for a young traveling male, he said. Missouri appears to have only scattered cougars, but Western states have growing populations.

Hamilton speculated that perhaps the animal was a Western cat that came down the Missouri River and got caught in an urban environment.

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