Rare Visitor: Mountain lion’s trip ends in Bismarck neighborhood

A yearling mountain lion traveling across North Dakota had its eastward travel halted Jan. 8 when the young male was shot in a Bismarck residential area. – File photo / North Dakota Game & Fish

In late October, he was in the area south of Regent.

But a winter trek across North Dakota ended Jan. 8 near Bismarck Municipal Ballpark.

By Brad Mosher

The Herald

It may be about 90 miles by car, but the trip took almost three months for a young sub-adult male mountain lion which had made the mistake of being caught in a coyote trap near Regent.

It made a bigger mistake in Bismarck.

The trip and its life ended in the Bismarck residential area when police officers and officials from North Dakota Game and Fish decided to shoot the mountain lion citing “danger to the public and the proximity of homes,” according to a release by the Bismarck Police Department.

The mountain lion was young, between one and two years old, according to an official from the the state Game and Fish Department.

It was captured in late October when it was found in a coyote trap south of the Hettinger County community of Regent.

According to Arthur Cox, the game warden for the Bowman area which included Bowman and Slope counties along with portions of Adams and Hettinger counties, the young male had been caught by a foothold trap.

It happened Oct. 26, with Cox and the game warden from Elgin on the scene. “It was in a trapline. We had a furbearer biologist out there… and a couple of widlife techs. Our wildlife vet came out,” Cox said.

The young male, which was caught in a trap Oct. 26 in an area south of Regent in the northernmost part of Adams County, was sedated, collared and ear-tagged before being released, according to local game warden Arthur Cox. File photo / North Dakota Game & Fish

“It was a yearling and at the time weighed 88 pounds. So, he was just a small one. It was just barely caught wih the foothold trap. It wasn’t too much into the paw or above it. It was just enough so that it couldn’t get away,” he said.

The area is part of a regular dispersal route for mountain lions, the warden said. “They travel through the whole entire state.”

It is rare to find one in traps. “It is the first one I ever had,” the warden said. “I have got Bowman and Slope counties, the west half of Adams and the southwest corner of Hettinger. It was right down along the Hettinger-Adams county line.

“The furbearer biologist, wildlife vet and a couple of techs did all the handling and processing of the information that they needed. We (the game wardens) were just standby.”

After the mountain lion was sedated, collared and tagged, Game and Fish officials released it. The collar was found about a month later in Grant County near Carson, but no mountain lion.

According to Cox, the mountain lion would still be alive if he had been traveling a little further to the south. “They do wander.”

But, the state furbearer biologist in Bismarck, Stephanie Tucker, said the young male made quite a journey across the state.

He was able to slip off the collar because it wasn’t tight. “With the sub-adults we have to allow  room for him to grow. We usually pad the inside of the collar with foam so that it is snug. This particular one scratched out all the foam and at that point it was just a big loose thing hanging on its neck.

“I think it is interesting that it moved accross a lot of wide-open prairie in the last several months pretty much undetected. He was dispersing during the middle of our deer gun season and the middle of our pheasant season when there are lots of people out recreating all over southwestern North Dakota. He wasn’t detected by anybody until he got into Bismarck. That is pretty impressive, the stealthiness of some of these mountain lions when they are dispersing,” she explained. “He did a really good job of hiding and being sneaky.

“It is a litle harder to hide when you are in Bismarck,” she added.

“This one was a little braver than most mountain lions,” she said Monday. “There is a one-way movement outside of a breeding area that is considered dispersal. There is a natural ingrained desire for sub-adults to move away from their natal home range or where they were born. Itis a built-in desire to prevent inbreeding in wildlife,” she added.

“Mountain lions are well known long distance dispersers. The direction and time of years tends to be random. Female mountain lions can give birth any time of the year. Typically dispersal of a sub adult happens anywhere from 10 months of age to two years of age,” Tucker explained.

She said the closest breeding populations are in the Badlands. “There is also the South Dakota Black Hills or they could have been way over in Wyoming somewhere,” she said.

A necropsy of the animal showed that it was in good health, Tucker added. “In the case of this particular animal, its showed there was nothing unusual. There wasn’t anything in its stomach, so he seems to be a perfectly health sub-adult mountain lion. There will be no further disease testing done at this point.”

It may have been food which drew the mountain lion into town, the biologist explained. “Mountain lions are pretty opportunistic about what they will eat. They primarily target deer. In a typical mountain lion population, 75 percent of their diet is deer. They are opportunistic, so they will take advantage of any prey they can if they are hungry, she said.

Road kill is a possible food source for mountain lions, according to Tucker. Citing a survey in the Badlands, the biologist said that about seven percent of the diet was scavenged.

The Missouri River is a well-known wildlife travel corridor, the biologist said. “Something like the Missouri River would be very attractive to a mountain lion if it was dispersing. It provides cover.”

Although the mountain lion was found inside the Bismarck city limits, it was close to the river.

“It was only about two blocks off the Missouri River. Distance-wise, it was still pretty close to the river,” she added.

Mountain lions in Bismarck are rare. “This is only the second mountain lion that has ever been dispatched in Bismarck,” she added.

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