Sunday, November 29, 2009

S.D.: Why doesn't GF&P relocate cougars that wander into city?

By Kevin Woster Journal staff - Posted: Saturday, November 28, 2009 9:00 am

John Kanta listened to people cry, swear and complain in the days following the killing of a mountain lion that was found in a Storybook Island neighborhood.

He also listened to the question: Why can't you just relocate it?

Some people angered by the state Game, Fish & Parks Department's decision to kill the 2-year-old, 120-pound male lion Nov. 19 think it could have and should have been relocated, rather than killed.

GF&P had already tranquilized the big cat, after all. It would have been simple to drive it somewhere up in the forest and turn it loose. But Kanta said there's one problem with that: It doesn't work.

"We've done that six times that I can think of, where we relocated various age or sex mountain lions, and none of them worked," said Kanta, the regional game manager for GF&P in Rapid City. "We located a young male, and he ended up about 10 miles away, killing geese in another guy's backyard."

Then there was the female lion that kept getting into trouble with people. GF&P relocated her twice, and she returned both times.

"We moved her once, roughly 25 miles as the crow flies, and she was back within two weeks," Kanta said. "The next time, it took less than a week."

There's really no place to put mountain lions in the Black Hills, a habitat that is at, near or above its carrying capacity for the big predators, regional GF&P supervisor Mike Kintigh said.

"The Hills are saturated. There's no place for these cats to go," he said.

That's probably why some end up wandering into towns, possibly during a migration to find their own territory, he said. Kanta suspects the Storybook Island-area cat was moving through, possibly along Skyline Drive, and wandered down into the neighborhoods.

So, why not capture him and release him somewhere outside of town and hope he continues to migrate?

GF&P isn't willing to take a chance that the same cat will come back into town or end up in trouble in a nearby town, Kanta said. Nor can the cats be relocated to adjoining states with more lion habitat, such as Montana and Wyoming. Those states don't want them. Neither does North Dakota nor Nebraska, Kintigh said.

"If we've got a cat that's a problem, the surrounding states don't want it. They won't want our cats," Kintigh said. Along with the potential for trouble, a transplanted cat could carry disease to its new population, Kanta said.

Mountain lion kittens that are orphaned when their mothers are killed by hunters or GF&P can and have been accepted by zoos in other states. But zoos typically don't want full-grown, wild lions, Kanta said. They're more difficult to handle and have a tougher time adjusting to life in captivity, he said.

"I don't think there would be anybody out there remotely interested in a 2-year-old, 120-pound male lion," he said.

GF&P does occasionally move a lion, in the right situation. One that killed a deer on the edge of the Spearfish city limits was captured and released a half-mile away. And it didn't come back.

"It wasn't a heavily populated area, kind of near the last house before you hit the wild," Kanta said. "What we did was drive it down the road off this guy's property. I wouldn't even really call that a relocation."

Kanta understands the questions and frustration from some regarding the GF&P's removal policy for lions that come into town. But he thinks the majority of people support it.

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/news/article_539ff74a-dbbe-11de-b893-001cc4c002e0.html

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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org

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