Where did it come from?: Wildlife experts provide insight into Wichita mountain lion sighting

Published: May. 11, 2021 at 4:38 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - It’s a story people across Wichita and beyond are talking about this week. The footage of a big cat sure looked like a mountain lion. And it didn’t take long for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to confirm the sighting in Wichita’s Riverside neighborhood.

The mountain lion was captured by Ring home security footage early Monday morning. The video, shared by Riverside resident Cristin Boyle, shows the animal walking through an alley. Boyle said what her camera captured “was very clearly a mountain lion, with the tail and the black tip.”

Boyle said her husband sent her the video and first thought it was from one of the cameras they have on their condo in New Mexico.

“We just immediately started a conversation. Who do we need to call?” She said, “We need to call somebody, so he contacted Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.”

Boyle said she’s used to seeing rabbits, cats, opossums, raccoons and occasionally a fox or wild turkeys, which is part of the charm of this area.

“The close proximity we have to the park system, we see a lot more (wildlife). We had a wild turkey that every day would walk down the middle of the street like she was going to the office or something. We have fox babies that are living the gutters that pop out every morning when I’m driving to work,” Boyle said. “It’s just so cool to see something besides a pigeon or a squirrel, which we see lots of those.”

But this was new.

“A little bigger, a little scarier, but it was really cool to see it,” she said.

Since sharing the video of the mountain lion taking a stroll through her back alley, the response has taken her by surprise.

“It’s pretty cool and it’s neat to see that it is blowing up so much. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it would be,” said Boyle. “I mean, it’s cool, it’s neat, it’s unusual. I didn’t realize how much of a news story it would be, and it’s really exciting.”

Matt Peek, a wildlife research biologist with the KDWPT, said it’s not uncommon for a mountain lion to be seen in a city, but this is the first one confirmed in the limits of a Kansas city.

Boyle said, “I just assumed at some point, Liberal or Goodland or someplace out west might have seen one but it was really surprised that it was here and it was in Wichita and my alley.”

Peek said, since 2007, there have been 36 mountain lion confirmations in Kansas. Over the last year, Peek said there has been a “flurry of activity,” about 14 or 15 sightings and three sightings in the state over the winter.

Zookeeper Brian Helton with the Sedgwick County Zoo said the mountain lion seen in Wichita likely wandered in from a neighboring state. He said mountain lions have a large home range of 400 or 500 miles, possibly more.

“With the way it is today, with urbanization and habitat loss, they’ll travel even greater distances looking for suitable habitats, mates and food,” Helton said.

But there is another possibility.

“Sometimes we’re able to get our hands on them and we see they were kept in captivity,” Helton said. “It’s been declawed; it’s been defanged. It’s maybe in poor health.”

The cats are highly adaptive, and while Kansas isn’t their preferred habitat, they can survive in the state.

Boyle said she was surprised to learn that the mountain lion sighting outside her home was the first confirmed in a Kansas city.

“I just assumed at some point, Liberal or Goodland or someplace out west might have seen one, but it was really surprised that it was here, and it was in Wichita and my alley,” she said.

If you see a mountain lion, Peek said you should stay away from it, give it space and contact your local KDWPT office.

Peek said his office would not be going out to look for the animal. He said the hope is that it moves out of the city. In instances like this, he said, they are usually just passing through as they migrate elsewhere.

While the mountain lion doesn’t pose a serious threat, and it may have just been a matter of time before a confirmed sighting in a populated area of Kansas, the first sighting in the state’s largest city, of course, has people taken by surprise. For neighbors in the Riverside neighborhood, it has them on the lookout.

“This is shocking, you know,” said Riverside resident Larry Hucke who lives near the alley where the big cat was spotted. “It’s one thing to see a fox or two here or there, and they roam the neighborhood. But not a mountain lion. That’s a little out of our league here,” he said.

Helton and Peek agreed that it’s unlikely that the mountain lion spotted in Wichita will stick around for long.

“They want solitude, quiet, protection, cover,” Peek said. “That’s what they’re looking for, to be somewhere away from people.”

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