Kentucky wildlife officers have confirmed the discovery of the first wild adult mountain lion in the state since before the Civil War, well over a century ago. The large cat was first spotted by a dog walker in Bourbon County on Monday afternoon. According to WKYT, officials said that the dog may have given the cat a fright, and it fled up a tree on Redmon Road. The responding officers decided to euthanize the animal due to concerns that the predator could escape and endanger nearby residents as evening approached.
“If that cat had left that tree, it would have disappeared into the brush and it was a fairly populated area,” Mark Marraccini, a Fish and Game spokesperson, told The Courier-Journal.
“That’s the way the officers deemed to handle it and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be handled that way,” Marraccini added.
Some have criticized the officers for not tranquilizing the large feline, but the department said it would have taken hours for a state veterinarian to have arrived with the darts, during which the cougar could have escaped into the nearby town of Paris. Mountain lion attacks are rare, even in states where they maintain a large population. However, attacks on humans can occur, and in September a six-year-old boy picnicking in California’s Santa Clara County was dragged away by one of the predators before his family was able to rescue him.
“The older they get, the more unpredictable and dangerous they can be,” Steven Taylor, assistant director of conservation at the Louisville Zoo, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Potentially, you could be killed by a mountain lion.”
Biologists examined the cougar and found it to be a healthy, 125-pound male of indeterminate age. Officials are trying to figure out where the mountain lion came from, since the species has been extirpated in the state since the 1800s. At one time Kentucky did have a native mountain lion population, but a combination of human expansion, over-hunting, and habitat loss drove the species west. A motorist ran over a juvenile cat in the state in the 1990s.
State biologists speculate that the mountain lion could be an escaped pet. Although cougars are hardly common among pet owners, Kentucky only recently outlawed the ownership of these cats in 2005. Residents who already had a cougar were allowed to keep them.