|Courtesy of Missouri Dept. of Conservation|
Mountain lions, sometimes called cougars, prefer areas that offer plenty of deer and few humans. St. Louis County certainly has deer--too many for some homeowners. Hunting deer by humans with firearms is not a good idea in the suburbs, so deer populations are quite dense in some neighborhoods. According to The Wild Mammals of Missouri, by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz, an adult cougar requires about 35 deer per year. In spite of the abundance of deer, the suburbs have too many hazards and too little cover for a large carnivore. The Missouri Department of Conservation's Jeff Beringer states, "To date, we have no evidence to suggest that a breeding population of mountain lions exists in Missouri." They believe that these animals are young males, dispersing from self-sustained populations in the Rocky Mountains--northern Nebraska and South Dakota being the closest.
Wild Mammals of Missouri, 2nd rev. ed., 2001, shows a map of the distribution of mountain lions that includes most of the southern half of Texas, almost all of Louisiana, and most of Arkansas, touching the Missouri border at Taney and Ozark counties. Comparing with other sources, this map seems outdated or overly optimistic. Mammals of North America, by Bowers, Bowers, and Kaufman, 2004, shows a very different range, including only the states of the far west, the Rio Grand Valley in Texas, and a tiny area of south Florida. The Florida panther, as that subspecies is called, has suffered from genetic problems brought on by its isolation from other populations. The Cougar Network, an organization interested in the sightings of mountain lions in their former range, has a detailed map showing established populations and confirmed sightings. Their map is similar to the one in the Kaufman guide.
I remember reading that Big Bend National Park in south Texas had no bears when the land was first made a national park. Later, bears dispersing from Mexico repopulated the park. Could the same thing happen with mountain lions following corridors of habitat outward from the Rocky Mountains? Do we value these beautiful animals enough to tolerate their presence?