Kentucky Fish and Wildlife ending active mountain lion investigation as leads dry up


Staff Report



FRANKFOR – Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife law enforcement officials are ending their active investigation into the circumstances surrounding the appearance last December of a 125-pound mountain lion on a Bourbon County farm.

“We’ve exhausted all our leads,” said Major Shane Carrier. “We have conducted our investigation and worked jointly with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers to determine how this animal arrived in Kentucky. At this time, we are unable to definitely say who brought the lion into the state.”

Kentucky state law prohibits persons from possessing inherently dangerous animals, such as mountain lions, or bringing them into the state without proper transportation permits.

On Dec. 15, 2014, a conservation officer responding to a complaint found the approximately 5-year-old male mountain lion treed by a homeowner’s Rhodesian ridgeback dog in a populated area about two miles northeast of Paris shortly before dark. While en route, the officer consulted with a wildlife biologist and learned tranquilizing was not a viable or an available option. Due to overwhelming public safety concerns, the officer shot the lion, which then leaped and disappeared into the underbrush. When backup officers arrived shortly thereafter, they searched in the dark and found it dead in the brush nearby.

Mountain lions, apex predators once native to Kentucky, were extirpated from the state more than 150 years ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the eastern mountain lion to be extinct. “These facts figured heavily in our decision to euthanize the lion when we encountered it,” said Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Steven Dobey. “A released or escaped captive lion that has lost its fear of humans is a much greater threat to public safety than a truly wild, free-ranging lion.”

Necropsy results and tooth-aging analyses indicate the lion was a 5-year-old male, 125 pounds, and in good physical condition and health. DNA analyses link the genetic origin of the lion to a population in the Black Hills of South Dakota, more than 1,100 miles northwest of Paris, Kentucky. A few mountain lions in western states have moved eastward, but neither law enforcement investigators nor wildlife biologists found any evidence that suggests this mountain lion made its way to Kentucky on its own.

Dobey noted that a 5-year old lion should already have an established home range and matured beyond the roaming age. Long distance traveling is typically the behavior of a 1½-to 2-year-old mountain lion. “The age of this lion is huge,” said Dobey. “This was a mature adult. We have consulted with western biologists who work closely with lions and they agree that a 5-year-old lion is living where it is going to spend the rest of his life.

“Furthermore, this animal was in remarkably good condition with few cuts and scars, and no broken teeth or claws often found on wild mountain lions of the same age,” he said.

Dobey said the absence of previous sighting reports and trail camera photos of this lion also are significant. “If this lion came here from the Black Hills on its own, it would have moved across South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and into Kentucky during the peaks of those states’ big game and deer hunting seasons,” he said.

“That means moving past thousands of hunters on the ground and possibly tens of thousands of infrared trail cameras. Biologists in midwestern states have seen western mountain lions move into their states, but with all the cameras hunters use now to scout game, there are good records and photos of those animals with locations, dates and time stamps.”

Fish and Wildlife Deputy Commissioner and Wildlife Biologist Dr. Karen Waldrop agreed. “There is no evidence supporting this animal traveled that distance on its own, or even spent any length of time on the ground here. This was either a released or escaped captive lion.

“Lions that become associated with people are extremely dangerous,” she said. “They cannot be released. Sometimes well-meaning people do not realize that keeping wild animals almost always means condemning them to an early demise.”

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife today released its investigative reports of the case, including the DNA analysis of the animal. This information is posted online at fw.ky.gov, the department’s website.

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website features an informational page about mountain lions and their existence in Kentucky at http://fw.ky.gov/Wildlife/Pages/Mountain-Lions.aspx. The department investigates each report it receives of mountain lion sightings in hopes of acquiring physical, verifiable evidence, and encourages anyone who believes they see one to report it.

Staff Report

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