A ghostly image caught on video this past weekend stunned a Yankton man.
Jim Ryan of Yankton contacted the Press & Dakotan Sunday after spotting a mountain lion on a recording from the security camera outside his garage, located near the Lewis & Clark Marina, halfway down the hill from his house. Just to be safe, Ryan monitors the area around the garage with a security camera.
"I check it quite often," Ryan said. "(Saturday), I was in Omaha and I was checking my camera, and I go, ‘Oh my gosh; look at this!’ I had to show my wife, my sister-in-law, everybody."
The image in the video was of a mountain lion walking cautiously past his garage during the night.
Ryan contacted the game warden, Dan Altman, to alert him to the presence of a large cat in the area, and then posted his video on Facebook.
As exciting as it was catching one of these shy creatures on camera, Ryan admitted he wanted the animal to move on.
According to Altman, who is with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, the cat is probably a loner and will do just that: move on.
"The closest breeding population of mountain lions we have is in the Black Hills of South Dakota," Altman said. "Commonly, when we get a lion that moves outside of the Black Hills, especially east of the Missouri River, like Yankton here, it’s more than likely going to be a young male."
Male mountain lions have a larger range than the females, Altman explained, so fewer males can live in an area than females.
"What we see happen with these younger males is that they are not big enough to be dominant in the lion population and they get pushed out," Altman said. "Basically, they go seeking new territories. At least three out of every four reportings that we confirm are typically males."
Altman said that there is no evidence of a breeding population of mountain lions east of the Black Hills.
"The general consensus is that they just want to keep moving until they find what they like, whatever that may be: ample food source or a mate — it’s mostly driven by a mate," Altman said. "Male mountain lions are solitary animals until it’s time to breed. The day-to-day life of a male lion consists mainly of three things: looking for a mate, patrolling and protecting their territory, and finding food."
The daily life of a young male mountain lion can also take them extremely large distances.
"A few years ago, we had a cat that was spotted outside the Twin Cities of Minnesota," Altman said. "It was confirmed to be a cat that was originally in the Black Hills, and maybe about a year later, there was a cat killed on a road somewhere up in the northeast by Connecticut; it wound up being the same lion that was in Minneapolis and originated from the Black Hills."
That cat had been on the move from at least 2009, according to the Associated Press, and was identified by his DNA, which was on record.
"The cats we have in the Black Hills are highly studied; we have radio collars on a lot of them; we have DNA profiles on a lot of them," Altman said. "That way, we are able to track where they go, should one get killed like that one in the New England states. We were able to DNA profile that one back to (originally being) from the Black Hills."
A mountain lion can weigh anywhere from 80-200 pounds, but the bigger ones tend to remain in the Black Hills and drive out the smaller, weaker ones, Altman said.
This knowledge may not be not of much comfort to any who suspect a mountain lion is passing through their area.
"They are a big, powerful predator, which is mostly why people get scared of them, but, in fact, they are kind of a skittish animal," he said. "To my knowledge, we don’t have any confirmed mountain lion attacks on humans in South Dakota. But usually, if there is an interaction with a cat, it is not out of a prey drive, it’s usually out of curiosity. (They are) just watching what we are doing."
Humans are not typical prey for mountain lions, according to Altman, so the big cats’ instinct is to shy away from encounters with people. This, he added, may also be a reason why there are few violent encounters between humans and mountain lions.
"We are just out of their realm of prey items in their minds, which is a good thing," Altman said. "As far as wild animals go, especially in this area, you are going to be looking at deer and turkey, and smaller mammals like raccoons and skunks. I know that in the Black Hills, one of their preferred prey items is actually porcupines, which we don’t really have around here."
Any person that encounters a mountain lion, should stand their ground and mind their own business, rather than run away like prey, Altman said.
"In an encounter, when somebody sees a big cat, it’s usually scared and tries to escape," he said. "They don’t like the in-your-face encounters, and that probably has a lot to do with why there isn’t a lot of encounters with dogs. If a dog isn’t going to turn and run from a mountain lion, it probably isn’t going to fall as prey. They don’t like that aggressive encounter."
He added that the few reports of mountain lions attacking pets in this area were proved not to have been cat attacks at all.
"In the Black Hills, there are more encounters with family pets," he said. "But the lion population out there is a lot higher, and there are more people out there."
"Any time I get a sighting that I am able to confirm — like the security camera that you saw, that’s a confirmed sighting — I track that with my agency. We have an interactive system that we keep those sightings on. I can look at that system and look up confirmed sightings in the area based on (specific) parameters."
There have been a couple of confirmed sightings in the area so far this year, which Altman said could be the lion from the security camera footage.
"We’ve accepted that they move through the area," Altman said. "There really isn’t any reason to panic. I live in the woods and I am in the woods all the time. I am well educated on mountain lions and I am not scared of them at all."