- Associated Press - Saturday, April 22, 2017

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska wildlife officials say a slowly growing mountain lion population is suspected of recent deaths among the state’s bighorn sheep herds.

Mountain lions are strongly suspected of having killed five bighorns between June 2016 and March, and nine since 2015, in western Nebraska, The Omaha World-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/2pQP1Oc ).

Sam Wilson, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s carnivore program manager, told commissioners Friday at a meeting in Norfolk of the bighorn sheep killings.

“We’re very concerned about this,” Wilson said.

Nebraska started reintroducing bighorn sheep in western Nebraska in 1981. Most of the five herds suffer setbacks from disease and poor lamb survival.

Mountain lions are native to Nebraska but were eliminated by the end of the 1800s. Cougars from neighboring states started returning to Nebraska late in the 1990s, and there are small breeding populations in three places in western Nebraska.

Four of the most recent bighorn deaths blamed on mountain lions happened in the Pine Ridge in northwest Nebraska. The other was in the Wildcat Hills in Scotts Bluff County on Nebraska’s western edge.

Wilson is midway through a five-year research project to determine how many mountain lions are in Nebraska, where they live and what impact they are having on big game species such as bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer.

Wilson said 17 mountain lions - 15 in the Pine Ridge and two in the Wildcat Hills - currently are wearing GPS collars monitored by state wildlife officials. Sixteen kittens also have been affixed with ear tags, he said.

The monitoring helps determine the big cats’ home range, habitat preferences and movements. Wilson said he also has investigated several hundred sites where mountain lions have killed deer.

Mountain lions are a protected species in Nebraska.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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