Mountain lion stalks across hunter's viewfinder




Special to The Telegram

ST. JOHN — The last thing Kurt Keesling expected to see on his trail camera was a mountain lion.

But there is no mistaking the long-tailed cat that appeared on Keesling's camera east of St. John in the wee hours of the morning Oct. 31 in the spot where he hunts deer each year.

"I always get several pictures of deer and all the wildlife," Keesling said of the normal pictures he browsed through when he checked his camera Wednesday. "But I wasn't expecting that when I went through the pictures."

On Friday, a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism wildlife biologist visited the site and confirmed the photo's validity. According to KDWPT, it's the first documented report of a mountain lion in the state since last January, when tracks were found in Washington County. KDWPT biologist Matt Peek said it's the ninth confirmed sighting since 2007.

Not that Peek questioned whether it was a mountain lion or just a large cat. The photo is one of the better trail camera photos taken, he said, adding that a biologist from Pratt is going to inspect the area to see if there are any other cougar signs and to verify the location.

"It's definitely a mountain lion in the picture," Peek said, adding he wouldn't be surprised if there are more confirmed sightings in the future. It appears more mountain lions are migrating through the Midwest.

Mountain lions, or cougars, populated the region but declined during the turn of the 20th century due to hunting and lack of prey, according to a study released earlier this year by the Journal of Wildlife Management. The remaining population was isolated to the American West.

The study revealed 178 confirmed mountain lions in the Midwest, with the number increasing steadily between 1990 and 2008.

In Kansas, most of the sightings have been in northeast Kansas, Peek said, as well as one in Sedgwick County.

Before that, it had been about a century since a mountain lion was spotted in the state, he said.

The mountain lion in question, however, more than likely is long gone, Peek said, noting they travel hundreds of miles.

Keesling said he had been a skeptic in the past when people told him they'd seen mountain lions. He has hunted since he was a child and has never run into a mountain lion or seen the tracks of one.

"I've spent as much time in a tree stand as anybody," he said.

He's not a skeptic anymore.

After discovering the photo Wednesday, the first thing Keesling did was call his wife, he said.

"That was one of the neater pictures that I've ever taken," he said.

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