Committee to hear evidence on mountain lions|jon_downes||02/02/04 at 20:39:25|jon_downes|xx|0||Committee to hear evidence on mountain lions

By Dave Toplikar, World Online Editor
Monday, January 26, 2004

Have mountain lions made a comeback Kansas? And should the public be concerned?

The Kansas House Environment Committee will examine those questions Tuesday when it gets a report from a Kansas University professor who has been collecting evidence of mountain lions spotted on KU's West Campus.

Mark Jakubauskas, a research assistant professor with the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program in the Kansas Biological Survey, has been called in to testify before the committee at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 231-N at the Statehouse.

His presentation will include a photo captured on KU's west campus, results of DNA analysis of animal droppings found near where the photo was taken and a map of confirmed cougars in the states surrounding Kansas.

Jakubauskas said Sunday he was surprised when he was told that the committee wanted him to give them a report about mountain lions.

"They totally initiated it," he said.

He was told that several legislators, their relatives and constituents have also had sightings around the state and want to hear about the KU mountain lion reports.

"My personal opinion is that mountain lions are making a comeback," he said.

Jakubauskas said that lawmakers might learn more if they could provided funding for a formal research study.

He said that could include setting up more motion-detector cameras, paying for lab analysis of what might be mountain lion droppings or carefully examining each report.

The House committee will also hear a response from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. State wildlife officials have said they don't doubt there could be mountain lions in Kansas, but they have never come across any conclusive evidence, such as a mountain lion carcass or a good set of tracks.

There have been no officially confirmed reports of mountain lions in Kansas since one was killed about a century ago.

Last fall, Jakubauskas set up a motion-detector camera after several stories were reported in the Journal-World about mountain lion sightings. A local journalist wrote a column about spotting one just west of the new Dole Institute of Politics on KU's West Campus.

That spurred others to come forward with their own accounts, including a KU maintenance employee and two KU administrators.

In October, Jakubauskas made public a night flash photo of a large cat-like animal that was taken by a motion-detector camera.

Jakubauskas' photo drew statewide headlines, but a mixed reaction from Kansas wildlife experts. They said they couldn't determine if the animal was or was not actually a mountain lion.

Looking for more proof, Jakubauskas found some animal droppings near where he took the photo. He sent them off to a lab for analysis, which showed the droppings were definitely from a mountain lion.