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South Dakota Revises Estimate of Lion Population

May 12, 2008.

From South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks:

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commissioners were updated on the state’s mountain lion population at their May meeting at the State Game Lodge at Custer State Park. That update included a revised estimate of the mountain lion population in the Black Hills.

Game Program Administrator Tom Kirschenmann told commissioners that GFP staff estimates that there are between 220 and 280 mountain lions in the Black Hills. Last year’s estimate put the mountain lion population at or just above 210 lions. The current estimate includes 33 to 43 adult males, 90 to 114 breeding females and 97 to 127 dependent young.

Kirschenmann said department biologists use three factors to help them reach the population estimate. Those factors include the harvest rate, home range size and modeling estimates. The estimates are the results of research conducted by GFP staff as well as projects conducted by South Dakota State University.

Research shows that 62 to 78 mountain lions are joining the Black Hills population each year. In rare cases that can mean a lion moving in from another state but the strongest recruitment factor is the population’s reproduction rate.

Estimates show that 50 percent of breeding females have young each year with an average of 2.7 cubs per litter. There is a 60 percent survival rate for cubs with 14 months as the mean age at which they become independent.

Kirschenmann said South Dakota had 54 adult lion mortalities in the past year due to a variety of factors including the hunting season, lion interaction, lions harvested because they proposed a threat and other causes.

Not included in the mortality figure are 13 cubs, 10 of which were killed by adult lions. According to Kirschenmann, radio collars play an important role in allowing the department to keep such close track of the lions.

Currently the department has radio collars on 16 cubs, 35 females and 16 males. Eight of those are the more expensive collars with global positioning systems.

“We probably have the best information of any state that has a mountain lion population,” said Wildlife Division Assistant Director George Vandel. “I’m confident that the information we have is the very best.”

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