By Woodrow polston
Agents with the Missouri Department of Conservation set up more than a dozen wildlife exhibits in the gymnasium of the Louisiana middle school last Thursday. The event, which is free to the public, is conducted by MDC on an annual basis and draws wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts from multiple counties. Agents were on hand to answer questions about conservation efforts, hunting, fishing, and Missouri wildlife and habitat. Some of the taxidermy mounts on display included a mountain lion that was killed in Macon County in 2011, which measured seven feet in total length, and a replica mount of the Missouri Monarch, which is the world record whitetail buck that scored 333 7/8 in the Boone and Crocket Club.
Visitors who were brave enough, had the opportunity to hold a variety of snakes. The big attraction of the evening, was a k-9 demonstration that was conducted in the cafeteria. K-9 Penny, a four year old female labrador retriever, was able to quickly detect a closed container of turkey meat that had been hidden under a table. Her handler, MDC agent Don Clever, described the purpose of the k-9 program to the audience.
“Our k-9 program just recently began,” said Clever. “The purpose of the program is to have a trained, scent discrimination k-9 for the purpose of tracking violators, assisting with search and rescue efforts, recovery operations, detection of unlawfully taken wildlife, and conducting searches for evidence. This program got started in 2020 and has a total of five K-9s at this time. One good example of the program is that we recently made a case against a poacher who had illegally harvested a turkey during youth season. While the suspect denied that he had shot a turkey, the K-9 was able to detect the scent of the meat which the poacher had hidden beneath a log along with the shotgun that was used. Without the help of the K-9, we would not have found the evidence that we needed for the case,” he added.
MDC initially partnered with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which has its own canine training program, to provide certified canine training services. The canine handlers and their partners participated in a nine-week training program with Indiana DNR in February and graduated from the program on May 14, 2021. After the K-9 demonstration was over, there was a presentation about mountain lions and other large carnivores that live in Missouri. MDC biologist Daryl Damron said there is a growing population of mountain lions in Missouri.
“Mountain lions disappeared from the mid-west after the turn of the 20th century but we are seeing them return again,” said Damron. “They are coming here from out west. Adult males can reach 200 pounds and have a home range of up to 400 miles. They are solitary and highly territorial animals. While there are many different names for a mountain lion, including puma and panther, there has never been a documented sighting of a black panther, contrary to many claims. With the extreme increase in the use of trail cameras in the last decade, we are seeing more and more evidence that mountain lions are here in the state. They are looking around for a place to claim as their home territory. They are finding ideal habitat in southern Missouri around the Ozarks. While there are a number of confirmed sightings in the northern part of the state, we are seeing a bigger cluster of them down in the Ozarks. Our latest confirmation was from several landowners who had photos of a mountain lion that was traveling down to this area from the north. Images were first captures in October and the last photos were taken in February of this year. Unfortunately, it was hit by a car while crossing Highway 70. Although it seemed to initially survive the accident, we believe that it later died, as it was later caught on another trail camera looking malnourished. Given the date of the photo, we were also able to determine that it had traveled very slowly from the location of the accident. While mountain lions have historically been rare to confirm here in the state, We strongly believe that one day, we will have a breeding population of mountain lions here in Missouri,” he added.
Damron said that there was also a recent confirmation of a gray wolf in southern Missouri near the area of the confirmed mountain lion that was hit by a car. Agents at the event estimated that there were more than 230 people who came out for the evening.