It’s old news by now that mountain lions (aka cougars) were finally confirmed in Kansas s few years back. After years of reports and much speculation (some folks even believing that KS Wildlife and Parks had transplanted mountain lions here in Kansas to help control burgeoning whitetail deer populations,) cougar sightings in Kansas were confirmed. The first confirmed mountain lion sighting in modern times occurred in 2007 when one was shot in Barber County in south-central Kansas, and 9 more sightings have been confirmed by Wildlife and Parks since. The last documented cougar sighting in KS prior to that was in Ellis County in 1904.
Settlers on the Kansas plains would have found gray wolves, (aka timber wolves) living here, but by the turn of the century they had been totally eradicated from the state. In December 2012 coyote hunters in northwest Kansas brought down what appeared to be an extremely large coyote weighing around 80 pounds. Tissue samples taken by the US Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that the animal was in fact a gray wolf from the Great Lakes population. Gray wolves have been known to wander into Missouri and Nebraska from northern states but this was the first confirmed gray wolf in Kansas since 1900.
American black bears were also once common in eastern Kansas, but they too were exterminated from the state by the late 1800’s. About a week ago, a black bear was spotted at a couple locations in Cherokee County in the far south- eastern corner of Kansas. Black bear sightings in that part of the state have become more frequent because of a growing population in the Ozarks since Arkansas initiated a restoration program there 50 years ago, but Missouri and parts of Oklahoma also support black bear populations. An occasional black bear also wanders into extreme southwestern Kansas also, probably from populations in Colorado and New Mexico. Grizzly bears also roamed Kansas during the same time frame as black bears and they too were gone by the late 1800’s and have never been seen here since.
Although a grey wolf sighting in Kansas is unusual, my point to all this is that we should not be surprised to see occasional black bears and cougars in Kansas given the fact that there are viable populations of them in most surrounding states. After all it has become fairly common to see a dead armadillo along the road now and then because they have moved north over the past few years. So far the cougars and black bears seen here have probably been young males wandering through, and no evidence has surfaced that there are breeding populations of either in Kansas yet.
There are no hunting seasons in Kansas for wolves, bears or mountain lions and although they can be shot if a landowner feels their property or family is in danger, all attempts should be made to scare them away first. Just like us humans who occasionally wander from place-to-place as our populations increase or because we desire different surroundings, so also does wildlife wander, especially young males of the species as they seek breeding territories of their own. As I see it, even more reasons to Explore Kansas Outdoors! (Carefully)
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]