Oklahoma had its fourth confirmed Mountain Lion of the Year sighting on October 20, and its fifth could be in a few days.
In 2020, Okies saw seven mountain lions – or cougars, catamounts, pumas, painters, or panthers – pick your nickname.
Sightings are rare enough that social media likes them, and the media picks up on them as well.
Take note of these things to know about pumas in Oklahoma:
It happens now
A monitor at the site noticed a photo of a large trail last week shared on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife’s Facebook page and alerted furry animal biologist Jerrod Davis.
“It looked like a cat trail, so we got his contact details and set a time and place to go see them,” Davis said.
Biologists found a stretch of 40 to 50 tracks in a large sandy area and confirmed they came from a mountain lion, he said.
It was a long cat with a 53-inch-long stride, he said. Each track was 4 inches wide with a 3 inch wide heel. The average stride length is 24 to 25 inches. The measurements indicate that the cat was probably a male. A “rule of thumb” is that women’s strides are 40 inches or less, he said.
“He had a long walk,” he said. “It could be a long, lanky young male or a bigger cat. The tracks don’t really give us an idea of his size,” he said.
The confirmation marked Pittsburgh County’s first and 44th statewide since authorities began keeping records in 2002, Davis said.
On October 23, Major County’s Justin Holt shared surveillance camera video of a mountain lion encountering a porcupine via Facebook with Channel 6 News’ Tess Maune, Tulsa. Maune reports that the Department of Wildlife is aware of and plans to investigate the sighting.
They have been around for a long time
Cats inhabit areas ranging from the Canadian Yukon to the Strait of Magellan. They inhabit the largest geographic range of all land mammals in the Western Hemisphere, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The people of Oklahoma love to tell stories about the wildlife service who transplanted cougars to create a population here. Ministry officials deny the stories and say there is no biological reason to store them.
Do mountain lions live here?
The short, precise answer is “yes, sometimes,” according to the Department of Wildlife.
Most of the confirmed sightings over the past two decades are of transients who inhabit the state for a short period. Most are younger males, likely kicked out of their range by a larger male. They roam in search of a female and establish their own territory, Davis said.
“They just keep going,” he said. “They are programmed so that their main purpose is to procreate and nourish themselves.”
Without a female, called a queen or puma, there is no reason for a male to stay, Davis said. A pair could, however, establish territory here.
“We continue to wait and investigate the sightings,” he said.
Mountain lions are large-scale animals that roamed the plains from Canada to Mexico. Females have a home range of 50 to 75 square miles. Male territories can cover 100 square miles or more. The results of the GPS collars reveal that men can travel hundreds of miles in several states, Davis said.
Texas and New Mexico, Colorado, South Dakota, and Wyoming are the closest states with established populations. DNA results from cats killed in Oklahoma have traced them to Colorado and South Dakota.
Four of the state’s 44 observations were female. None were reproductively active, Davis said.
Hundreds of reports of mountain lions are coming in, and department officials investigate dozens of the most promising ones every year. All reports are taken seriously, even if they are bobcats, coyotes, dogs or even domestic cats, he said.
Davis and the Outdoor Oklahoma team produced a YouTube video to help people with identifying tips.
More than 50 reports have reached Davis’ desk after the sighting last week. They ranged from recent sightings to reports from years ago, he said.
“Many were from people who said they didn’t know they could report a sighting and they just wanted to say they had seen one,” he said.
Should I shoot it?
Mountain lions are a protected non-game species in Oklahoma, but citizens can protect themselves and their property. The regulations state that they can be taken all year round “when they commit or are about to commit depredations on a domestic animal or when they are considered an immediate danger to safety”.
A game warden or an employee of the service must be contacted immediately and the animal will be examined.
Are they dangerous?
Pumas are primarily crepuscular (active around sunset / sunrise) like their primary prey species, white-tailed deer. Cats opportunistically take cattle, but Oklahoma’s deer are plentiful.
Cougars are reclusive and generally don’t want anything to do with humans, one of the reasons confirmed reports are relatively rare.
“In a lot of places there are a lot more people and a lot more pumas, and attacks are rare even in those places,” Davis said. “They don’t look at us and don’t see some kind of prey.”
How to report
The Department of Wildlife’s website at Wildlifedepartment.com offers information on mountain lions, identifying animals and their tracks, and has a link to a form to report what you have seen. Some also contact the service by phone at the address or through Facebook posts, but the report form is the most direct and efficient method of reaching the biologists who will investigate your sighting.
Kelly Bostian is a freelance writer working for the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to educating and raising awareness about conservation issues facing Oklahoma.