A motorist on State Highway 81 near Minco late Tuesday struck and killed a mountain lion.
Another motorist passing by saw the animal on the roadside and called the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. State game wardens recovered the carcass and will have a DNA test done to try and determine the origin of the animal.
There is no indication that it had been a captive mountain lion which had been released or escaped, said Micah Holmes, spokesman for the Wildlife Department.
The mountain lion was a young male that appeared to be between 12 and 20 months old, Holmes said.
State wildlife officials think the cat was traveling along the South Canadian River in search of new territory, a behavior typical of young male mountain lions that are pushed out their home range by older and stronger males.
State wildlife officials acknowledge there are mountain lions in Oklahoma, but don’t have an estimate of how many of the wild cats there are in the state. They are most often found in far western Oklahoma, Holmes said.
“We do have them statewide,” Holmes said. “They use rivers as travel corridors. They are here and they are native, but we don’t have an exact number how many are here. Most are probably like this one, on the move.”
A DNA hair analysis may help to determine if the mountain lion began his journey in another state such as New Mexico or Colorado, Holmes said.
Mountain lions can roam great distances. In 2004, a young male mountain lion that was wearing a radio transmitter collar attached by researchers in the Black Hills of South Dakota was hit and killed by a train in Noble County near Red Rock.
More mountain lions are showing up in trail camera photos in Oklahoma as trail cameras are becoming more widely used, but it’s still rare to see the secretive cats. Bobcats are commonly mistaken for mountain lions by eyewitnesses, Holmes said.
It used to be illegal to kill a mountain lion in Oklahoma but that law was changed in 2007. Now, it is lawful to shoot a mountain lion in Oklahoma as long as the shooter deems the animal to be a threat to persons or livestock. However, the carcass must be brought to the Wildlife Department within 24 hours so biologists can examine it.
It’s been almost five years since that law changed and no hunter or anyone else has turned in a mountain lion to the Wildlife Department that they have shot and killed.
“That’s an indication of how many mountain lions there are out there,” Holmes said. “We have a lot of hunters out there.”
The Wildlife Department would like all mountain lion sightings be reported to the agency, Holmes said.
The mountain lion killed near Minco will be mounted by the Wildlife Department and likely used in some type of educational display, Holmes said.