The Missouri Department of Conservation has released a photo of a mountain lion that was spotted in Carter County -- but the sneaky cougar caught on camera is not the most newsworthy part of the photograph.
The image, large version on view below, shows the mountain lion right next to a depressing-looking elk calf carcass, which can only mean one thing: MOUNTAIN LION ELK MURDER EPIDEMIC?!
Not really. It's very normal for a mountain lion to eat an elk, Joe Jerek, department spokesman, tells Daily RFT. But he says there is a notable trend here with mountain lions in Missouri.
First, here's the photo, courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Zoomed into the elk:
The department had set up a trail camera in its Peck Ranch Conservation Area in northwest Carter and eastern Shannon counties -- and eventually caught proof of the mountain lion, says Jerek.
The official alert about the photo says:
The confirmation is based on trail camera photos taken Feb. 2, and the carcass of an elk calf found on the conservation area that showed feeding consistent with that of a mountain lion. Elk are among natural prey for mountain lions.
Or, as Jerek says, "It's a glimpse of a full ecosystem at work.... Young elk are common prey."
He adds these occasional confirmations are scattered across the state, adding, "There's no evidence of any breeding population."
The department is, however, in its third year of an elk restoration project, he notes.
In terms of mountain lion trends, Jerek says, "There's been an upswing in confirmed sightings over the last few years." The map below shows confirmed reports since 1994.
He says that evidence shows these mountain lions are from other states west of here and are probably passing through looking for mates. (Aren't we all?)
But the crucial question: Should we be worried?
"You have a better chance of being struck by lighting [than being attacked]," he says. "They are very shy of humans."
Continue for the mountain lion map, more photos and the full alert.