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Lion takes a stroll

7/2/2010

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

HERINGTON -- When a Colorado mountain lion crossed over into Kansas, traipsing through the western reaches of the state, it shattered much of what wildlife biologists had envisioned such a cat would do.

Bottom line, no longer can biologists expect mountain lions to simply follow major rivers.

Instead, a 90-pound lion can live and survive -- and remain virtually undetected -- even in an area that offers little cover to hide in.

Furbearer biologist Matt Peek detailed much of the cat's travels through Kansas in a report he presented to the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission last week in Herington.

It was the third confirmed mountain lion in Kansas since the last known lion was killed in 1904 near Victoria. The others included one that was killed in 2007 in Barber County and one that was spotted near a huge pile of corn in Oct. 9 in Trego County.

The latest lion in Kansas was a cat that had been outfitted with a GPS collar that transmits its location once every three hours, even though Colorado wildlife officials only download the data once a month.

"They notified us as it was getting close to us," Peek said.

That was on March 5. It left Kansas on March 26, even though KDWP wasn't notified until April 6.

"We weren't aware of where it was at while it was in Kansas," Peek said.

The cat, a male, was first captured near Estes Park when it weighed just 40 pounds. It was released back into the wild six months later, weighing about 90 pounds.

It entered Kansas in the southwest corner of Cheyenne County, heading southeast through Sherman County into Thomas. It then headed back west, through Logan County into Wallace County.

After that, the lion headed pretty much straight south, heading out of Kansas into Oklahoma and Texas.

Overall, Peek said, it appears the animal has covered more than 1,000 miles.

"At last check, it was down in New Mexico," he said.

After downloading all of the data, Peek learned that the lion basically used what cover it could find, small patches of grass, shelterbelts and abandoned houses.

It spent time near an occupied house in Morton County, where the occupants had a dog. One of the occupants even took a picture of a track, and went into the nearby shelterbelt to see if she could find any other tracks.

While it spent time near livestock, there were no reports of any lost animals.

Instead, Peek and other biologists were able to determine that the lion's prey had included one domestic cat, two raccoons, a porcupine and one deer.

In Colorado, the animal is known to have dined on a coyote and "apparently ate a bald eagle as well," Peek said.

Peek said he's not sure how much effect the lion's stint in captivity had on how and where he traveled.

"They have had only one other cat like this with a collar to take off, and that one went north," he said.