A mountain lion was spotted taking an afternoon stroll in Yankton Friday.
According to a post on the Yankton Police Department’s (YPD) Facebook page, a mountain lion was seen in the vicinity of 31st and Francis streets, just south of Chan Gurney Municipal Airport. The post included a photo taken by a member of the public.
The post stated that the animal was last seen heading east into the corn field south of the airport. No further reports have been made to police or the sheriff’s office, and none has surfaced on social media.
“It’s an unusual event, but it’s not unheard of at all,” Yankton’s Police Chief John Harris told the Press & Dakotan Monday. “Generally, people stay away from it and they leave, and that’s exactly what it did.”
Given the animal’s natural range, a big cat like the one seen Friday could be 40 miles away by now, he said.
The protocol for handling a mountain lion sighting begins with locating the cat and then calling the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP), he said.
“We do a risk assessment,” Harris said. “If there is no immediate danger to anybody, we leave it alone and then it’ll leave.”
Mountain lions are mostly nocturnal, he said, seen usually in the morning or in the evening when they hunt.
“I think he probably got spooked,” Harris said. “Something disturbed him, so he started moving during the day time.”
The last live mountain lion confirmed spotted during the day within the city limits in June 2004 came to a sad end.
Harris was not with the YPD at the time, but recently familiarized himself with events surrounding that case, he said.
The lion was located roaming the area adjacent to Yankton Middle School one summer morning.
“Officers were leaving it alone and they were trying to tranquilize it, initially, until (a Yankton youth program) was getting out,” Harris said. “It was right in the area where children were going to be coming out.”
GFP could not obtain the tranquilizing equipment in time to neutralize the animal before the event let out, he said, so the GFP officer received approval from his department to dispatch the cat, and one of Yankton’s police officers shot and killed it.
As much as police don’t want mountain lions encountering people, they warn residents to keep their distance anytime they spot a predator — in the wild or in town.
“It’s a wild animal. It’s no different than any other wild animal,” Harris said. “Don’t harass it, stay away from it and report it to us. We’ll go look for it and make sure it’s not endangering anybody.”
If the animal presents a high risk, protocol dictates that police contact GFP officials to obtain tranquilizers.
“But, if it becomes a danger, we’ll take other actions,” Harris said. “That’s a last resort.”
On a more personal level, Harris was delighted by the photo posted on social media.
“I am a wildlife fanatic, so I thought it was phenomenal,” he said.
If you see a mountain lion in the area, contact the Yankton Police Department immediately, but do stay away from the animal. Police will attempt to notify residents to stay out of the lion’s way so it can move through the area without incident.