October 24, 2014

More cougar encounters expected as populations grow

Mountain lion shot in the back yard of a Des Moines home. (Photo courtesy of the DNR)

Mountain lion shot in the back yard of a Des Moines home. (Photo courtesy of the DNR)

Iowans may see more mountain lions in their back yards and fields this year, as cougar populations are rising in their natural habitats — like Colorado and Oklahoma.

Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says cougars are solitary and territorial so a growing population means some are forced to strike out on their own.

Some will make it to Iowa, he says, which is how a big cat came to be shot in Des Moines last fall. “As these young males get kicked out of their home area and they can travel significantly per day to get here,” Gipp says.

“How it wound up in the middle of Des Moines is an interesting concept.”

While humans aren’t usually at risk, he says mountain lions prefer to prey on small mammals like rabbits and stray cats.

“You’re going to see more and more of these types of things coming to Iowa because we’ve got a food source,” he says. Gipp says the rise of mountain lions in Iowa should balance itself out in the next few years.

As more hunters in other states kill mountain lions, fewer shunned young males will wander into Iowa.