Thursday, November 09, 2006

SD mountain lion sighting confirmed

GF&P official says predator seen near Big Sioux River

PUBLISHED: November 9, 2006

A state official on Wednesday confirmed that a mountain lion was seen last week near Sioux Falls, likely headed north along the Big Sioux River.

A Game, Fish and Parks Department trapper saw the lion shortly after noon on Friday, near where Interstate 90 crosses the river, said Arden Petersen of GF&P. Another sighting was reported Tuesday morning near Dell Rapids, he said, and an earlier one on Oct. 27 where the river enters Lincoln County.

The department plans an open house 7 p.m. Monday at the Outdoor Campus to address public concerns over recent sightings.

Petersen said there is no immediate concern that humans are in danger, though he advised people to be aware that a lion might be traveling along the river. The department's policy is to leave the cat alone "as long as it's minding its own business."

"If it gets into a residential area or somebody's losing livestock or pets, our policy would be to put it down," he said.

Tranquilizer darts are not a good option because they require close range and take time to have an effect.

He said the last time he remembers a possibly legitimate sighting of the elusive predator near Sioux Falls was about 12 years ago, near where Interstate 229 crosses the river.

Assuming one lion is responsible for all three sightings, it is most likely a young male from the Black Hills, Petersen said. The Hills population is about 165 lions, and a recreational hunting season under way there.

Cats from the Hills have dispersed as far as Oklahoma and northern Minnesota.

Jonathan Jenks, a wildlife biologist at South Dakota State University, said about 90 percent of males younger than 2.5 years disperse from their home range in the Hills. They don't usually stop until they find either a female or an area with plenty of food.

There are almost certainly no females in eastern South Dakota, and a necropsy and feces from a handful of males indicates that it is hard for them to find food here. There is no documented record of a mountain lion killing a deer in the region, possibly because they do not know how to hunt in prairie terrain, Jenks said.

"The indication is that they're consuming smaller and medium-sized critters like badger, mink, rabbits, beaver, that sort of thing. So can that sustain a lion? It's not known. Probably not, but it's not known," he said.

Furthermore, there is no documented case of a lion pursuing a human here.

"In essentially every instance that I know of, the animal was moving away from humans, except for that one instance last year when that person that said he had his dog with him." Petersen said that incident was near Ramona in April, when a young man actually pursued the lion.

Still, Jenks and Petersen said it is important to know what to do in a mountain lion encounter.

"If a person encountered an animal, they'd still want to act appropriately and not run, make themselves look big and maybe shout at the animal," Jenks said.

Running can trigger a mountain lion's predatory instinct.

"The worst thing they could do would be to run."

Reach Ben Shouse at 331-2318. NEWS01/611090340/1001/NEWS

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