Monday, February 02, 2009

Mountain lion passing through eastern Nebraska

Published Saturday January 31, 2009

Mountain lion's presence confirmed west of Columbus


A mountain lion appears to be passing through eastern Nebraska.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission confirmed cougar tracks in snow near the Loup River west of Columbus on Friday. A mountain lion was photographed Jan. 12 upstream along the Loup in Nance County.

Sam Wilson, the Game and Parks mountain lion specialist in Lincoln, said it's likely the two sightings were of the same animal as it moved eastward along the river. The tracks confirmed Friday were discovered Thursday by a landowner.

Wildlife biologists say roaming mountain lions use Nebraska's river system as roadways across the state. The wooded corridors provide ample cover and plentiful deer to eat.

"We've picked up on it twice now, and it'll be interesting to see if people come across tracks again," Wilson said. "Finding a mountain lion in just one location doesn't tell us a lot about where it's going."

Most of the 70 confirmed cougar sightings in Nebraska since 1991, many of them duplicates, have been young males driven out of their home territories in South Dakota's Black Hills or the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming by a dominant adult male, Wilson said.

"So they leave in any direction in search of females," he said. "They roam until they find what they're looking for."

The cougar or cougars sighted along the Loup River could be hundreds of miles away in a few weeks, Wilson said.

The big cats have a tan coat and a 30- to 36-inch-long black-tipped tail. Adult males weigh 100 to 150 pounds. Females typically weigh 55 to 90 pounds.

Mountain lions are protected in Nebraska. It is illegal to hunt or trap the animals.

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