MOUNTAIN LION

Greg Gilman of Manhattan said he captured this picture of a mountain lion last month using a hunting camera that was set up near Tuttle Creek Lake.

There’s been a mountain lion sighting in Riley County.

A property owner’s motion-triggered infrared camera caught an image of what appears to be a mountain lion north of Tuttle Creek Lake earlier this month. The owner, Greg Gilman of Manhattan, said the photo was taken Dec. 19 at 2:45 a.m. in the Swede Creek area.

Mountain lions had not been officially documented in Kansas from 1904 until 2007, even though they were in all the surrounding states. Likewise there have been stories of sightings in the counties near Manhattan, but only one official case previously, in 2016. State Department of Wildlife and Parks officials were working on confirming the local sighting this week, but there appeared to be little doubt.

“It’s definitely a mountain lion,” Gilman said.

“Seems very clear to me,” game warden Ben Jedlicka said. “We just need to confirm the location.”

The photo shows a big cat from behind as it appears to move past a deer feeder. Gilman said the camera, which is activated by motion, takes pictures every minute and sends them in real-time to his phone. He set it up there because he hunts deer on the land, and occasionally has to shoot coyotes. He figures the big cat was on the prowl for young deer near the feeder. He has more than 100 frames in a time-series that he said can verify the location, although only the one frame shows the cat.

Gilman, a Manhattan native whose family has been involved in the Aggieville bar business for decades, is an avid outdoorsman. In fact, he says he once shot a mountain lion on a hunt near Grand Junction, Colorado.

A sighting in Riley County is not entirely unexpected. There was one cat spotted in late 2016 on Fort Riley; the same one most likely was treed by a young raccoon hunter in Wabaunsee County.

There have been nine sightings this year since August, according to Kansas wildlife research biologist Matt Peek. He said the number statewide is more than 30 since 2007.

The most recent was in Kiowa County, west of Wichita. Some of the cats have been spotted multiple times, including the Kiowa County mountain lion, so it’s unclear how many individual mountain lions there have been. Most of them are believed to be juveniles on the move, passing through, although the one in Kiowa County was seen over the course of two and a half months, possibly indicating longer-term residence. One was sighted in Shawnee County within the past year, Jedlicka said.

Some alleged sightings are actually bobcats, which have become much more common in Kansas. Mountain lions can grow to 6 feet in length and weigh up to 145 pounds, authorities say, far bigger than a bobcat.

Jedlicka and Peek said that there’s no reason for people to panic about a sighting so close to Manhattan. Mountain lions live in areas throughout the western U.S., and there are very few documented attacks on people.

The big cats want to avoid humans.

But they are also not to be taken lightly. “They’re incredible hunters,” Gilman said.