UPDATED: March 28 at 8:29 a.m.
In a new development, Missouri Department of Conservation has confirmed that a tuft of hair found on a fence in Oregon County, Missouri belongs to a mountain lion.
Click here to read the entire story from our sister station KTVO in Kirksville.
MDC Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer released the results of a DNA test on the hair taken from a fence near West Plains, Mo.
The DNA test immediately followed a situation where a local resident reported that a big cat ran across the road in front of him and struggled after being caught in the fence.
KTVO says this is the sixth verified mountain lion sighting in Missouri since late November and the 16th in modern times. In cases where carcasses have been available for examination, most have been young males. Young male mountain lions go in search of new territories when they mature. Beringer said MDC has no evidence to suggest that a breeding population of mountain lions exists in Missouri.
To report a sighting, physical evidence or other mountain-lion incident, contact a local MDC office or conservation agent, or email the Mountain Lion Response Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mid-west mountain lions are not a myth.Read more Mountain lions seen in Missouri Mountain lion killed in northwest Missouri Horse attack in Adams County
Due to bigger populations in the west, experts believe some young male mountain lions are heading east on a search for their own territory. Mountain lions are very territorial; the dominant male kicks out any young males who may challenge him. Meanwhile mountain lion territories are big, sometimes as large as 100 square miles. That's a lot of ground to cover for a lion looking for a mate. That also means there's a good chance they'll be spotted from time to time.
Just last year, Spencer and Dawn Trautvetter found large, deep claw marks on their horse Flicka on their farm near Loraine. They suspected a mountain lion right away.
Dawn Trautvetter said, "It's not a coyote. The markings are too sharp."
Since then, they say the same big cat has been sighted on their land by others, but not confirmed by the Illinois Department of Conservation.
It may be one of many moving east into our neck of the woods.
There have been several confirmed Tri-State sightings over the years. A lion was captured on camera by a hunter in Lewis County in 2000. Then there was a cat shot by a trail camera in 2006 near Chilicothe, Missouri. See those picture below.
The latest confirmed mountain lion sighting in the Tri-States was shot by a group of Amish coyote hunters near LaPlata, Missouri in January. It's one of 22 confirmed sightings of cougars in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. Missouri by far has the most at 15...with a third of them coming in just the last year.
Mountain lions used to call the midwest home, but early settlers wiped them out more than one hundred years ago. Now, they're found mostly out west in places like the rockies and the badlands of North and South Dakota.
Read more online on the Cougar Network .
Missouri Department of Conservation Regional Superintendent Matt Wolken said, "There's no doubt we're having an increase in sightings."
The MDC's website has resources explaining the life history and habits of mountain lions here .
"They (the young male mountain lions) are not going to stop and set up a territory unless they find a mate and we have not found any females in the state so these cats are roaming. They're probably traveling down the Missouri river basin. The same thing is happening in Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma. They're having increased sightings and confirmations as well," said Wolken.
Because females don't roam, Wolken says these males won't find mates and won't breed. But even if you don't see them, chances are they are around and following a plentiful food supply.
Rick Tebbs with the Lee County Conservation Board said, "Iowa is like a big forest in the summer with corn fields and the ones that have been killed we've seen the contents of their stomachs and they're eating raccoons."
Conservation officials we talked with say reports come in frequently from folks who think they've seen a cougar. But out of the hundreds of calls, only a handful of sightings have been confirmed. Many of them are cases of mistaken identities. This photo turned out to be a coyote. Bob cats like this are often mistaken for a mountain lion from a distance. But conservation officials say some sort of physical evidence is needed to confirm a sighting. But because a lion's territory is so large, some of the sightings could be from just a couple of lions.
But they still want you to report anything you see.
Wolken said, "We like to know how many cats are in the state and their movements while they're here."
Tebbs said, "If they do confirm one of them is in the area, then they can address other calls that may come in and let the public know one is spotted in the area."
But Wolken says you shouldn't be worried.
"These are very shy animals. They want nothing to do with people so your chances of getting attacked by a mountain lion is very slim."
Mountain lions are protected in Missouri, but the wildlife code allows for people to kill them if it's pursuing humans, livestock or domestic animals. In Iowa and Illinois mountain lions are not protected.
Experts say it's pretty unlikely you'd come in contact with a mountain lion since they're shy creatures. But if you do, remember that it's a predator.
Don't hide. You should make yourself as large as possible by opening your arms...look the animal in the eyes and speak in a loud voice.
If it does attack you, fight back.
This conversation is going wild on facebook. Hollie Bastian asked on Facebook is any farmers are losing livestock.
We checked around a bit and so far haven't heard of any reports of farmers losing livestock to mountain lions, aside from the alleged lion attack on the Loraine horse last year.
On facebook Rhonda Hummel asked, "Several years ago didn't the department of conservation release either bob cats or mountain lions into this region?"
We talked to conservation officials in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. They all say the same thing...there never was any controlled release of the animals into the midwest.