We arrived back from our vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Monday. It seems that while we were gone, there was a bit of excitement in the neighborhood! While talking to a neighbor, he told me about a neighbor across the street who was QUITE surprised to see a Mountain Lion lounging in a tree in his back yard! We live in extreme eastern South Dakota, only a few miles from both Minnesota and Iowa. South Dakota DOES have a healthy Mountain Lion population in the Black Hills, where biologists typically estimate that a few hundred are around. Black Hills Mountain Lions are known to wander widely, with tagged animals found far from the Black Hills and far from South Dakota.
However, in our part of the state near Sioux Falls, the landscape is dominated by corn and soybeans. There are certainly plenty of deer around that would interest a mountain lion, but there isn’t a lot of natural habitat around. The only forested areas in the area are typically riparian zones. The potential attraction for the mountain lion seen in our neighborhood? We live across the street from the Big Sioux Recreation Area, a state park along the Big Sioux River that features a lot of burr oak, cottonwood, and other trees along the river. Turkeys and deer both abound in the park, but it’s a small oasis of habitat sitting in a vast landscape of cropland. It’s also not all that large a park, covering a thin strip along the river for less than 2 miles. From a long-term habitat standpoint, it’s simply not a location that’s going to hold a population of Mountain Lions for any sustained length of time.
The park is quite popular with campers, joggers, bikers, hikers, dog walkers, etc. There’s a very nice paved path through the park that connects with other paths in the city of Brandon itself. There are also other unpaved paths that people frequently use. The number of people using the park also make it quite unlikely that any Mountain Lion would attempt to stay for any prolonged period of time. The number of people using the park ALSO will likely be used as a reason for Game Fish & Parks to “remove” the Mountain Lion should it happen to stick around.
There has NEVER been a recorded case of a Mountain Lion attacking a human being in South Dakota. NEVER. Despite that, they are treated as an extreme danger. The story linked to here is the typical reaction when any Mountain Lion is found anywhere close to humans in the state. The Mountain Lion is killed, period. In the story I linked to, the lions were near Keystone,. Keystone is in the heart of the Black Hills, and thus, the heart of Mountain Lion country in South Dakota. The lions were clearly within their normal habitat, but were still “removed” (killed).
Mountain Lions are quite common in the Black Hills, but are rarely every seen. Being shy and staying away from people is certainly a positive for a Mountain Lion in the state, as just being SEEN is an offense punishable by death for a Mountain Lion in South Dakota. The Keystone story above has been repeated many, many times in the state, with Lions being shot and killed whenever they happen to be found near people. That’s especially true outside of the Black Hills. In South Dakota it’s such a rare sight to see a Mountain Lion outside of the Black Hills. If one IS seen, people immediately freak out and assume it’s a danger, despite, again, the fact that there has NEVER been an instance of a Mountain Lion causing harm to a human being in the state. While birding in the Yankton area several years ago, I heard a blood-curdling “scream” in a forested area along the Missouri River, a sound I know came from a Mountain Lion. I certainly never reported it, knowing what would happen to the animal if authorities were alerted to its presence.
I haven’t heard neighbors say whether the mountain lion found here has been seen again. Frankly, I hope it has moved on and WON’T ever be seen again, just from the standpoint of the animal’s own safety and well-being. A “seen” Mountain Lion in South Dakota is usually a CONDEMNED Mountain Lion.