Mountain lion videos no reason for new concern in Nebraska, Iowa

Back porch mountain lion videos have been making the social media rounds over the past year. But are there really more wildcats in our yards?
The internet is a great place to find cats and we're not talking about housecats.
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 11:04 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Terry Murphy has lived out by Lake Cunningham for 20 years and she’s never seen a bobcat crossing State Street before. Like a good neighbor, she shared it on social media to make sure people knew to keep their pets safe.

And near Lincoln, back porch mountain lion videos have been making the social media rounds over the past year. But are there really more wildcats in our yards?

”It is a natural time of year for a lot of our mammals, to naturally disperse or go roaming, and at the same time over the next few weeks, crops will start to get harvested as well and animals will become more visible,” Iowa Department of Natural Resources furbearer biologist Vince Evelsizer said. “But I think the other thing to remember too is we all have collectively across the Midwest more trail cams on the landscape than ever before.”

Evelsizer says Iowa is currently tracking only four mountain lions, none breeding cats. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission furbearer program manager Sam Wilson oversees one of the most respected mountain lion tracking programs in the Midwest. He told us that there’s been no significant population change in the state in recent years. According to NGP, the population, heavily centered in the west at Pine Ridge, “indicate(s) that the population in Pine Ridge ranges from 22-59, with the most recent survey from 2019 estimating 34 total animals.” There are far fewer statewide, usually young males with wanderlust.

“A lot of our human cities are built at the juncture of major rivers,” Evelsizer said. “And sometimes the mountain lions, more than anything, accidentally get stuck in or stumble into these cities because they’re following river corridors.”

In the metro area, the river corridor includes the rare Loess Hills on the Iowa side, which have certainly been home to mountain lions in the past. None have been confirmed there in recent years.

”We certainly get a lot of reported sightings of them,” Pottawattamie Conservation environmental education coordinator Amy Campagna said. “But most of those usually turn out to be domestic cats or bobcats.”

Campagna has worked as an education coordinator for Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, as an educator at Fontenelle Forest, and as a Nebraska Master Naturalist. She now works in education at Hitchcock Nature Center across the Missouri River from Omaha. She said the photo snapped by Terry Murphy is rare, because bobcats, weighing about 20 lbs., are quite secretive and generally shy away from people.

“It would be very rare for someone to encounter a bobcat,” she said. “I’ve worked out here [at Hitchcock] for three years and I’ve seen a very quick glance of a bobcat only one time. I’ve never seen a mountain lion.”

Mountain lions were part of Nebraska’s native wildlife until they were killed off and forced out by the early 1800s. There were no confirmed sightings in Nebraska until 1991. Still, chances of the elusive predator regaining a foothold in Nebraska or Iowa are slim.

“What will be interesting is whether we could have enough around, and whether or not mountain lions could adapt to our modern landscape,” Evelsizer said, pointing out that mountain lions have shown behavior avoiding cattle in favor of deer as prey. “In general it’s pretty likely we will never have a high population like they have in Colorado or California.”

If someone sees an animal they believe may be a mountain lion, or even a bobcat or coyote, it’s recommended they contact local police or state wildlife officials. And of course, snap a picture, from a distance, of course.