The sighting marks the first confirmed mountain lion spotting in Kansas since 2016, according to research database Cougarnet.org, though there have been many unconfirmed reports. A string of cougar sightings were confirmed in 2016, including one in southwest Shawnee County on Nov. 20 caught on a trail camera by Rene Tinajero. Based on other sightings in the region at that time, it is probable that the big cat was moving eastward through the state toward the Kansas-Missouri state line and didn’t establish permanent residence in Shawnee County.
Prior to that sighting, a cougar — thought to be the same one — was spotted on Nov. 9, 2016, in Geary County to the west of Topeka. A cougar was again spotted after the Shawnee County sighting on Nov. 24, 2016, in Wabaunsee County to the east — cornered in a tree by raccoon hunters in what made for a dramatic YouTube video.
This marks Kansas’ 21st confirmed mountain lion sighting since 1990, though there were no confirmed sightings between 1990 and 2005.
Many more sightings go unconfirmed because of a lack of evidence or mistaken identification of the animal in question.
“We don’t keep precise stats on cases that aren’t mountain lions anymore, but in cases where evidence is present — that is, cases where we can make a definitive ID or at least definitively exclude mountain lion — the vast majority are still mistaken identity,” KDWPT biologist Matt Peek in a previous Topeka Capital-Journal article. “Somewhere in the vicinity of 95 percent or higher.”
Mountains lions that wander into this part of the state are believed to have come from the Black Hills, the Badlands or northwestern Nebraska, though Colorado also is in their native habitat range.