Early one December evening a neighbor was driving home near our home when she spotted movement out of the corner of her eye. Thinking a deer was about to dart in front of her car, she immediately stopped to prevent a collision. She was astounded when a mountain lion crossed about ten feet in front of her illuminated by headlights.
Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are spreading out from their traditional home in western mountains. A couple of decades ago the only known eastern population of the big cats was in Florida, where they are extremely rare and are usually called panthers. These big cats were once common throughout North America except for the far north. They also ranged throughout all of Central and most of South America. As big predators they were heavily persecuted by humans, and their habitat was devastated by settlement. A big blow to cougars was the elimination of deer from much of their range in the late 1800’s.
Much has changed to give lions, or cougars as they are sometimes called, an opportunity to expand.
Most people now appreciate them as beautiful animals and don’t shoot them on sight. Many states protect them from shooting. Also, the woods and deer have returned. In 1900 most of what today is a vast hardwood forest that stretches from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean was farmed. Many of those farms went out of business and trees move in. Today, there’s near continuous forest for hundreds of miles and much of it is filled with deer, a favorite food of mountain lions.
A few years ago a male cougar walked from his Black Hills home to Connecticut, where he was hit and killed by a car. Most Midwest states have documented the presence of cougars. A few have been hit by cars. More have been photographed by trail cameras put out by hunters to track deer movement. Some have been shot. Seeing a live one is very rare.
So, a cougar sighting near Winding Pathways in Iowa is neither impossible nor surprising. It was probably a young male cat seeking a mate and place to live.
Do mountain lions pose a threat to people, livestock, or pets? Not really. There have been documented cougar attacks on people, mostly in California where they are not hunted and have lost fear of people, but the risk in most places is trivial. Cougars are shy animals that choose to stay out of sight and prefer eating deer to dogs, sheep, cattle, and cats.
We wish we’d seen the mountain lion that passed through our neighborhood but he’s probably miles away by now.
This is an independently researched column. No money or goods have been exchanged for this information.