MEDICINE LODGE — Investigators plan to conduct a genetic analysis of a pelt taken from a mountain lion killed in Kansas to determine if it came from a captive bloodline or was a wild animal.
Their findings could put to rest the long-standing debate about whether wild mountain lions are roaming Kansas. The last documented wild mountain lion in Kansas was killed in Ellis County in 1904, said Bob Mathews, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
Tracy Galvin, a state Department of Wildlife and Parks game warden, started investigating local rumors of the cat killing about three weeks ago. On Monday, he took possession of the pelt from a mountain lion shot west of Medicine Lodge in November.
A Barber County resident said he shot the cat while cutting wood on his property. He saw the mountain lion nearby, walked to his truck, grabbed a rifle and shot it.
Charges are pending because it's illegal to shoot a mountain lion in Kansas unless it threatens life or property, Galvin said.
The landowner acknowledged he shot the cat and arranged to have the pelt returned from a Texas taxidermist, Galvin said, adding that the man reported that he previously had seen big cats in the area.
Matt Peek, a furbearer biologist for the Department of Wildlife and Parks, said the event is substantial. While reported Kansas sightings have numbered in the thousands, proof - such as tracks, droppings, a carcass or hair - has been nonexistent.
Neighboring states have plenty of proof of wild lions. A healthy population lives in a rugged part of southeast Colorado, within 80 miles of the Kansas border, Peek said.
Male mountain lions routinely range that far to establish a territory.
Nebraska has about 50 confirmations, most coming since 2004. Their cats have been traced to a growing population in South Dakota's Black Hills.
Missouri has about 10 mountain lion confirmations, including a road kill within a few miles of Kansas.
Oklahoma authorities found a mountain lion hit by a train about 40 miles south of the Kansas state line in 2004. It was wearing a tracking collar from South Dakota.
The kill in Barber County does not mean a population of mountain lions lives in Kansas.
"There could be some out there," Peek said. "We could very soundly say the number out there is very, very small. That is based on the lack of other evidence."