Possible and Confirmed*
Mountain Lion Sightings
(Felis concolor)

Lion shot in Yankton, South Dakota* June 14, 2004
Lion sighted near Big Sioux River in Dell Rapids area 2 Nov. 7, 2006
Lion sighted on Big Sioux River north of Sioux Falls 2 Nov. 3, 2006
Lion sighted on Big Sioux River north end of Lincoln Co. 2 Oct.. 27, 2006
Worthington (Nobles County), Minnesota* (Dec. 1991)
?Lake Park area in Dickinson County, Iowa (Dec. 2002)
Melvin area (Osceola County), Iowa (Dec. 2002)
?Sanborn area (Obrien County), Iowa (Feb. 2003)
Rock County, Minnesota (late summer 1999)
Rural Union County, South Dakota (May 1998)
NW Lyon County, Iowa 1 (see notes) (Nov. 18 or 19, 2003)
Fairview (Lincoln County), South Dakota (Winter 1997/1998 and 1998/1999)
Groth Preserve in Big Sioux River Complex (Sioux County), Iowa (Feb. 2002)
Doon area (Lyon County), Iowa (Oct. 1999; Nov. 2005)
Hawarden area (Sioux County), Iowa  (Oct./Nov. 2001 & ?Jan./Feb 2002 Dec. 2004)
Lion shot in rural Sioux County, 9 miles west of Sioux Center and 5 miles north of Ireton * (Oct. 23, 2003)
Prints of bounding cougar (12.5 & 8 ft between bounds)* Dec. 10th or 11 2005
Possible cougar sign (3 or 4) along watershed of 6 Mile Creek west of Sioux Center. (Feb. 25th to June 2005)
Cougar seen scavenging dead pig on farm west of Sioux Center  Dec. 27, 2005
Cougar sign (confirmed prints* and 4+ visual sightings) in center of Sioux County. November through February 2004
Kingsley area, Plymouth County August 11, 2005
?Leeds (Woodbury County), Iowa  (Jan. 2000)
Across the river from Sioux City
Lion shot in South Sioux City, NE*
Nov. 23, 2004
?Rural Monona County, Iowa  (2001)
Road Kill near Harlan in Shelby County, Iowa*  (Aug. 2001)
Carrol County, Iowa (Dec. 2001)
(March or April 2002)
Reports from other areas.
Not in NW Iowa but Iowa confirmation.
Lion shot in Wayne County, Iowa*

Jan. 4, 2004
Lion shot near Marengo in Iowa County* Dec. 14, 2009


Nature of the study
I have been investigating several seemingly good reports of mountain lion or cougar in the westernmost area of NW Iowa, easternmost SE South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota. Some of the above reports provide a link with more information, but many of the folks who gave me the information would prefer that  their names or details not be publicly linked. The reader should also be aware that not all of my reports are listed on this public web page.  I would be happy to provide more information on the reports to researchers or scientists who need the actual reports.   Most of these are visual reports but six (including the Shelby County road kill and Wayne County kill [outside our area but in Iowa]) are killed or captured mountain lions. These and two of the prints that were confirmed by outside experts are considered confirmed and marked with an asterisk.  The first of these was a cougar that was captured in Worthington, Minnesota 1992 and the second unequivocally confirmed cougar was a road kill near Harlan, Iowa.  Next was the cat killed in rural Sioux County on October 23 of 2003 and may have been responsible for some of the above visual sightings.  There was also one shot in Wayne County in January of 2004. Another was shot in Yankton in SE South Dakota in June of 2004 and most recently (November 2004) one was shot in South Sioux City across the Missouri River from Iowa.  Although visual reports are much less reliable than photographic or print evidence, I have included in the above list visual reports by good observers that have noted characteristics (color, kind of tail, size etc.) consistent with mountain lion.  The reports proceeded by a question mark are reports that are not as strong as some of the others but in the author's opinion are likely valid mountain lion sightings. A couple students and I are currently (2004) testing some camera traps to see if we can use them to better document where the lions are. So far I have not caught any cougar on film but have some great shots of some of the local wildlife including deer, raccoon, and turkey, all of which are known from elsewhere to be suitable prey for cougar. We also have some good shots of coyote but so far have not captured cougar on film.

Other areas

While I focus this page on reports from the NW Iowa area, I still appreciate receiving information from other parts of the state and adjacent states and will keep the information on file. I will also pass on information of good sightings to Ron Andrews (of the Iowa DNR). I am aware of good reports from Woodbury and several counties to the south.  For several years there have persistent reports from the Cherokee area and in 2004 I have heard of numerous reports of cougar sign along the Little Sioux River suggesting the possibility of cougar using the wooded corridor of that river.  See my history page for reports from other parts of Iowa.

If they are not all escaped pets, these cougar could be coming from a known and expanding Black Hills population.  See my web page on history for some other possible sources for some of these cats.

 Dispersing males
At this point all the captured or killed cats in the area have been male and I have no good evidence for a local breeding population.  On the other hand the number and nature of reports from counties south of Sioux City (Monona, Shelby, and Carroll) suggest a remote possibility of a resident or small breeding population.

Good evidence and reporting
I would appreciate hearing of any sightings or prints.  A good picture of a print is probably better confirmation that a visual sighting.  If you take a picture, if at all possible, include a ruler (or something else if you don't have a ruler) to document the size.  Look at my web page on how to tell a mountain lion track from a big dog track.  Kim Cabrera has a good page on mountain lion scat and some other common predator scat you may find. If you see something take a moment and write down as many details as you can while it is still fresh in your mind. The kind of tail, color and height all help eliminate things that are not mountain lion.  One of the things that can be mistaken for a mountain lion is a bobcat.  This page gives a good comparison between a cougar and a bobcat.  While black cougars are not known in the US, under poor light conditions a lion could appear almost black. The yowl of the cougar is apparently quite distinctive.  This and some other cougar sounds can be heard on the Scottish Big Cat web page or here. The nature of a kill may also suggest cougar.  Wade and Brown 1984 provide useful information on the difference between coyote and cougar kills.  Coyote tend to scatter fur around the carcass.  The cougar usually has an entry hole (sometimes with fur removed around the hole) and eats out the liver and lungs leaving the digestive track. Cougar will often drag the carcass to cover or into a ravine and cache (store ) it covering it with leaves or branches.  Since cougar usually jump on deer and kill them with a bite on the back of the neck, examination of the inside of the hide in the neck area may show these puncture marks. In Sioux County a deer skull was found with large puncture marks that fit the dentition of an adult cougar (Pollema 2004).

More information
For more information on these cats go to my new intro page.  This page has the url of my earlier public page, which also provided a listing of local sightings.  My other pages provide some information about cougar and sightings in other areas.

Some other resources:
One excellent resource to the mountain lion literature is a large bibliography  that has been produced by K.C. Lamb.  What I especially like about the bibliography is the extensive annotation that gives the reader some of an idea of what is in the articles.

  1. Based on excellent tracks in soft mud of what appear to be cougar [not yet confirmed by a lion track expert].  The animal appeared to have been hunting raccoon. Both pictures and casts were made of the tracks.
  2. The November 3 sighting is a very strong sighting by an experienced wildlife employee. The other two were still fairly good sightings and suggest a cat moving north along the Big Sioux River.  Other sightings suggest earlier movement of cougar along the Rock River and the Big Sioux River further south

Pollema, Travis 2004. Report 36 [report on this skull and part of his senior individual studies project]. Available from James F. Mahaffy

Wade, D.A., and J.E. Bowns. 1984. Procedures for evaluating predation on livestock and wildlife. Texas Agric. Ext. Serv., Texas Agric. Exp. Stn., and U.S. Fish & Wildl. Serv. 42 pp. An adapted online (1997) version can be found at url: http://texnat.tamu.edu/ranchref/predator//pred.htm  Accessed on December 28, 2004.

James F. Mahaffy
Biology Department
Dordt College
Sioux Center, Iowa 51250

Page created by James Mahaffy in June of 1999
File updated on: Dec 16, 2009 (10:25 PM)