Initial results indicate animal possibly wild; ongoing tests attempt to identify specific origin
EMPORIA -- In March, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) obtained the pelt of a mountain lion that reportedly had been killed in Barber County in November of 2007. At the time, agency staff could not determine if the animal was wild or not, and some question still remains on the issue. Muscle tissue samples from the pelt were collected and sent to a federal research laboratory in Missoula, Mont., for analysis with two goals in mind.

"The first goal was to determine whether the mountain lion (also known as cougar or puma) is of North or South American descent," says Matt Peek, furbearer research biologist for KDWP. "It's believed that most captive mountain lions are of South American descent, and a South American lineage would indicate that the lion either had been a captive or was of captive descent."

Peek noted that some captives are of North American descent, so while a positive test for North American genetics would not prove the mountain lion was wild, it would indicate that it might be.
"In this case, the lab determined that the lion’s origin was North American, indicating a potentially wild lion," Peek explains. "While this test does not conclusively prove the lion was wild, there was no outward indication it had been in captivity, and KDWP officials believe it probably was wild."

The second test being conducted is commonly referred to as “DNA fingerprinting.” This is an attempt to use DNA to link the Barber County lion to a specific population of lions. To date, the results of this DNA fingerprinting have not been definitive, and the source population remains unidentified. Peek explains why:

"There are several possible explanations, but the most likely scenario is that the lab does not have sufficient DNA samples from the source population to positively link the Barber County lion with a particular population. Consequently, the lab has continued to add DNA from additional lions from other states to its database in hopes of making a connection."

Peek adds that while some Kansans are eager to know the results, testing is a time-consuming process. Additional DNA samples have been added from Colorado and New Mexico. Recently, 300 samples were added, primarily from Wyoming. Several weeks are required to add each genetic addition to the database and make a comparison. Lab and KDWP officials are still hopeful the source population may be positively identified. However, with the genetic similarity of mountain lions across the West, a positive identification may not be possible.

"There is no guarantee that conclusive results to this test will be obtained," says Peek. "While such tests could continue indefinitely as additional samples are obtained by the lab, the likelihood of obtaining conclusive results will decline substantially as comparison with lions from nearby states is completed. Nearby states are where the Barber County mountain lion most likely originated, assuming it is, in fact, wild."

KDWP will provide additional updates when more is known, or when conclusive results are obtained. For more information, click here.