Jenks: Mountain lion likely dispersing

File photo: Jonathan Jenks

BROOKINGS – Last week, a Brookings resident reported recording a large animal on their surveillance camera. A presumed mountain lion was seen in a backyard near the 1100 block of Seventh Avenue South.

In the past, Brookings area mountain lion sightings have primarily occurred outside of city limits, which made this sighting more unsettling for some residents.

Before he retired, Jonathan Jenks, a South Dakota State University distinguished professor emeritus of wildlife science, spent much of his 29-year-career focused on a variety of species in South Dakota, including mountain lions. His work was so extensive that he published a book titled “Mountain Lions of the Black Hills,” reporting on the cat’s population dynamics, diet, behavior and impact on the region.

According to Jenks, the mountain lion sighting in town was not surprising at all, because when mountain lions are moving through unfamiliar territory, they are generally looking for food. Jenks said that it is possible that deer in town may have drawn the mountain lion in.

Outside of deer, Jenks said that mountain lions are “opportunistic” animals and while 70-80% of their diet is deer, when traversing the prairie, that number goes down. They then resort to eating badger, mink, rabbits, domestic cats, as well as other species.

“The timing (of the sighting) is right in line with the data that we have collected on the species in the Black Hills,” Jenks said. “If this is a dispersing individual, lions generally disperse from their mothers about 12 to 14 months after birth, generally born during the summer, and the dispersal period can be in September and October, so it pretty much fits with what to expect from a dispersing individual.”

Jenks said that many of the lions that come through town originate in the Black Hills, but that does not mean that this particular cat is from the western side of the state. Jenks said it is possible that lions in North Dakota could disperse this way as could lions in Nebraska, near the Pine Ridge area.

Colorado and Wyoming could also potentially be places of origin for this mountain lion.

Jenks said that “it’s more than likely male,” but females do disperse as well. Jenks said that a female lion was seen in Howard years ago. If the lion was male, it is likely looking for a female mate, and it’s difficult to tell which direction the lion is going. Jenks said that through his research, he found mountain lions travel about 9 miles a day, traveling upwards of 600 miles during their dispersal.

“He either dies or finds a female,” Jenks said. “Maybe he wants to set up a territory around that female.”

In the past, Jenks believed that a mountain lion seen in Connecticut originated in the Black Hills, traveling over 2,000 miles. Being nocturnal, most of their movement occurs at night, rarely being sighted during the day.

Jenks said that “you want to be careful with mountain lions because you don’t know how they will react to you.” He said that dispersing males could be aggressive if they are really hungry, but for the most part, mountain lions want to avoid humans.

“There’s very little to be afraid of unless you’re in an incorrect situation or have an aggressive animal,” Jenks said, explaining that an incorrect situation would be getting stuck in between a female lion and its cubs. “But in most cases, they are just going to want to stay away from you.”

Anyone observing a mountain lion or other wild animal in the area is asked to contact Brookings Police at 605-692-2113.

Contact Addison DeHaven at [email protected]

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