A four-year old male mountain lion killed recently by a Lewistown hunter was radio collared three years ago in the Black Hills of South Dakota – 450 miles away.
“We collared 65 cats to estimate population size and to determine dispersal patterns of juveniles leaving the Black Hills,” says Jonathan Jenks, a wildlife professor at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D.
“We were hoping to verify some movement into eastern South Dakota, but no radioed lion headed that way,” Jenks says.
Instead, the lions traveled north, west and south.
Besides the young male lion killed near Lewistown, another South Dakota lion was killed by a Montana hunter south of Custer in Treasure County. Other lions in the study ended up in northwestern Minnesota and Oklahoma.
“We were looking for young lions to disperse from the Black Hills and we were not disappointed,” Jenks says.
At 10 to 18 months old young mountain lions typically leave their mother. Because lions are solitary animals, they look for territory unoccupied by another lion. Young males, in particular, will sometimes travel a long way.
The lion in Oklahoma, which was killed by a train, traveled 667 miles. The lion killed near Lewistown traveled about 450 straight-line miles.
The Lewistown lion was radio collared Feb. 25, 2003, just west of Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills. He weighed 85 lbs and was estimated at one year old.
“Our last location on him was collected on Sept. 19, 2003, west of Devil’s Tower in the Bear Lodge Mountains of northeastern Wyoming,” Jenks says.
The next person to locate the lion was Kris Birdwell of Lewistown, on Dec. 31, 2005, when he was lion hunting in the Judith Mountains north of Lewistown.
“We crossed a track in the morning and let the dogs loose,” Birdwell says. Two hours later the hunting party had the lion treed.
“My cousins deserve all the credit,” Birdwell says. “They have the dogs and train them. I just had the hunting license.”
It’s not illegal to shoot an animal with a radio collar or neck band or ear tag, but the hunter is required to turn in any markers or collars to Fish, Wildlife and Parks. When Birdwell turned in the collar to FWP’s Lewistown office, Jenks, whose phone number was on the collar, was notified.
“We had about five or six young lions leave the Black Hills,” Jenks says. “Unless someone calls us with information on the animal, we never know what might have happened to them.”
That advice holds for future lion hunters. This summer, Jenks plans on putting radio collars on 50 more South Dakota mountain lions.