Bourbon County

Using tranquilizer darts too risky for dangerous mountain lion in Bourbon County tree, wildlife experts say

A mountain lion, similar to the one in this photo, was shot and killed Monday by a wildlife conservation officer in northern Bourbon County.
A mountain lion, similar to the one in this photo, was shot and killed Monday by a wildlife conservation officer in northern Bourbon County. Getty Images/Fuse

A mountain lion killed in Bourbon County this week was a young, healthy-looking male that weighed 125 pounds, according to preliminary results from a Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources examination Tuesday.

If it can be proved that he was a wild, free-ranging animal, it apparently would be the first such confirmed mountain lion in Kentucky since before the Civil War, said Mark Marraccini, the department's public relations officer.

"But that is a pretty big 'if,'" he said. "They took some measurements today, but that's certainly not enough to go on without looking at everything in total."

Marraccini said Fish and Wildlife biologists and veterinarians performed a necropsy — essentially an animal autopsy — on the cat Tuesday afternoon in Frankfort.

"It seemed to be in very healthy condition, and they determined pretty quickly that it didn't look like it had traveled long distances on foot," he said.

Marraccini said that under Kentucky law, it is illegal for anyone except zoos and related educational facilities to keep a mountain lion captive.

Time and testing will help determine whether the lion was a wild animal or one that had been in captivity and escaped.

Marraccini declined to speculate. "The science will tell us that," he said.

Among other studies, investigators will examine the contents of the cat's stomach, which should indicate what kind of food it had been eating, Marraccini said.

Investigators also will take DNA samples and send them to be analyzed at labs that have databases of genetic information on file from other mountain lions.

"That could tell us a lot more about its origins," Marraccini said.

A state wildlife officer shot the mountain lion Monday afternoon on Redmon Road in northern Bourbon County, after a property owner called Fish and Wildlife and reported seeing a big cat.

Marraccini said Tuesday that the mountain lion was the first one that state officers have ever shot.

"I think there was one back, perhaps in the 1990s, that was killed in a traffic accident," Marraccini said. "In that case, it was determined pretty quickly that it was a lion someone had brought in."

The department has been asked why the lion was shot on Monday.

"It was in a fairly populated area; there were houses nearby," Marraccini said. "It was 5:30 and getting on toward night. It was a free-ranging lion, and so it became a public-safety issue."

Some people have asked why the lion was not "darted," instead of shot.

"Darting really was not an option," he said. "Darting an animal has to be a pretty planned-out process. Number one, you have to have people who can use dart guns.

"Dart guns aren't nearly as accurate as regular firearms. Also, darts don't always work the way people think they do, as in movies. There is a whole lot of planning that has to go into it. When you have an officer responding to a call like this one, they have to go with what they have in the truck."

If the lion had been successfully darted, he said, officials would have been left with the question of what to do with the large, powerful animal when it woke up.

"At 5:30, with darkness coming on, and you have a mountain lion in front of you that could escape into the darkness at any minute, you have to handle the situation. They did the right thing."

Steven Taylor, assistant director of conservation, education and collection at the Louisville Zoo, said mountain lions have been known to attack people, and one that had been treed would be particularly "anxious."

"What are you going to do if the animal jumps down?" he said. "They can be a very dangerous cat, especially in an urban area."

Taylor said people sometimes try to keep mountain lions as pets, but that's not a good idea.

"The older they get, the more unpredictable and dangerous they can be," he said. "Potentially, you could be killed by a mountain lion."

In some parts of the United States, residents are used to coexisting with mountain lions. But not in Kentucky, Marraccini said.

Mountain lions were once native to Kentucky, but they disappeared in the late 1700s. As more people moved in, predators began to disappear.

Today, their range includes only the 12 westernmost states and Florida, according to the National Park Service.

Mountain lions are known by several other names, including cougar, puma and panther, the park service said.

They typically range from 75 to 175 pounds and eat wildlife as large as deer and elk.