OMAHA, Nebraska — The body of an adult mountain lion discovered in north-central Nebraska was the first female found outside the traditional cougar range in the western part of the state, according to state wildlife officials.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reported that the cougar's body was found along a road near Ericson, on the western edge of Nebraska's northeastern region, on Thursday. The big cat may have been hit by a vehicle, the commission said.
The cougar's gender is significant, because it could mean the establishment of a breeding population of the big cats in east-central Nebraska, The Omaha World-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1vg3tMp ).
The only female mountain lions previously identified in Nebraska have been well west of Ericson, in the Pine Ridge, Wildcat Hills and the central Niobrara River valley near Valentine, said Sam Wilson, the commission's carnivore program manager.
Until this week, cougars found outside the western range have been young males driven out of their home territory by older males and in search of compatible territory and a mate. They often travel along rivers and streams unnoticed for long distances.
"Our history here has been limited to finding migrating males, but females also disperse," Wilson said.
Last Sunday, a hunter legally killed a mountain lion in northeast Nebraska — the first one legally killed outside the Pine Ridge hunting zone since limited hunting of the big cats in Nebraska was first approved in 2012.
Mountain lion hunting emerged as a controversial issue in the Nebraska Legislature this year, with Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers unsuccessfully seeking to repeal the commission's authority to establish mountain lion hunting seasons. Chambers has vowed to resume the effort when the new legislative session begins in January.
The commission has not decided whether to authorize a hunting season in 2015.
Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com