By RICHARD HINTON/Bismarck Tribune
A mountain lion trapped in Billings County over the weekend is North Dakota’s first cat to be fitted with a radio collar and released.
Information gathered from monitoring the 1½-year-old, 108-pound male cat’s movements will supplement the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s studies of the carnivores, said Dorothy Fecske, NDGFD furbearer biologist. Also in the plans this winter is a snow track survey in the Badlands.
Keith Zastoupil, of Dickinson, notified NDGFD Saturday night that he found a mountain lion caught in a foot-hold trap. After reaching the site, NDGFD staff determined the lion received only minor injuries and appeared to be healthy enough to tranquilize, collar and release.
NDGFD staff retrofitted a VHF pronghorn collar to fit the lion, and the frequency is the same as the pronghorn collars, Randy Kreil, NDGFD wildlife division chief, said Monday.
“When we fly our pronghorn monitoring out in that country, it will be a natural fit,” he explained. NDGFD tries to monitor pronghorn movements from the air every 10 to 14 days, Kreil added.
With icy conditions on Monday keeping many small planes grounded, Fecske was on the ground Monday in Billings County hoping to pick up the signal from the cat’s collar and “trying to determine how it’s doing,” Kreil said.
“When you tranquilize a wild animal, there always is a chance of a negative reaction,” Kreil explained. There is a misconception among the public that you tranquilize an animal and turn it loose with no ill effects. They can die during or after tranquilization.”
The collar’s frequency can be monitored from the air or ground, Kreil said. If the animal wearing the collar doesn’t move for a certain amount of time, the collar transmits a mortality signal showing that either “the collar slipped off or the animal is immobile,” Kreil added.
Lions in North Dakota cannot be legally trapped or snared, but incidental trapping of mountain lions can happen, said Greg Link, NDGFD assistant wildlife chief. “We appreciate the trapper promptly contacting the department,” he added.
NDGFD was notified Saturday night and had the collar, drugs and dart gun in place by Sunday morning.
“Hopefully, it will work out and we will get some valuable information on lion movement. It was an opportunity that presented itself, and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and slip a collar on it and see what we can learn,” said Kreil. “The information we get will supplement all we are learning through the season, snow track survey and other sources of data.”
North Dakota’s second mountain lion season closed Nov. 9 after the season quota of five cats had been reached.
(Reach outdoor writer Richard Hinton at 701-250-8256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)