Just about two months after the first female mountain lion in more than a century showed up in Iowa, another of the big cats has been confirmed in the American Midwest state.

On August 31, Aaron Anderson captured images of a puma (one of a whole thesaurus's worth of alternative names for mountain lion) on a trail camera he placed on his parents' land east of the little town of Linn Grove in northwestern Iowa.

Linn Grove lies roughly 40 miles or so northeast of where Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials shot a female puma in late June after suspecting the cat of livestock depredation.

Interviewed by the Sioux City Journal, Anderson's mother Cheryl suspected the cat on her property navigated along a convenient natural corridor: the Little Sioux River. "We have a lot of timber along the river," she said. "I suppose it is following the river."

That's certainly a likely possibility, as riparian woods along drainages striking through farmland and urban areas provide the most natural thoroughfares for all sorts of mammals, pumas included.

The photographic confirmation of the Linn Grove-area puma comes after multiple reports of a big cat in the general region, including an alleged sighting to the northeast in an adjoining county a few weeks before these pictures were taken.

Since 1995, more than 20 pumas have been identified passing through Iowa, a state where the animals were extirpated by the late 1800s. The nearest known breeding populations of mountain lions to northwestern Iowa are located in the Niobrara River Valley of Nebraska, which also harbours established pumas in the Wildcat Hills and the Pine Ridge farther west; the Iowa DNR suspects some other of the transient cats seen in the state might originate in South Dakota's Black Hills.

Vince Evelsizer, an Iowa DNR biologist, told The Des Moines Register that DNA testing on the female puma killed earlier this summer suggested she hailed from Wyoming, farther west yet. Many dispersing pumas in the Midwest are thought to be young males, as those are typically the farthest-travelling. Confirmation of a female cat – typically less vagabond-ish than a male, but certainly capable of the occasional heroic journey – is a significant development, as it at least raises the possibility of puma breeding in the US heartland.

Read more: Iowa's first female puma could be the latest sign of mountain lions on the move

Habitat modelling conducted by Dr Michelle LaRue, a University of Minnesota research ecologist who also serves as executive director of the Cougar Network, and Dr Clay Nielsen of Southern Illinois University Carbondale suggests that potential territory for self-sustaining populations of mountain lions does exist in the Midwest. Their assessment, however, showed little of the most suitable habitat lies in Iowa. The state could, nonetheless, be an important conduit for Great Plains pumas dispersing eastward to recolonise more favourable Midwestern geographies.

Although attacks on human beings by pumas are rare – and the odds in Iowa would have to be called vanishingly low – Aaron Anderson, an avid deer hunter, told the Sioux City Journal that the cat nabbed by his trail camera had him on guard. "I've never gone hunting when there's a critter out there that can hunt me," he noted.

Evelsizer, the DNR biologist, told The Des Moines Register that his agency had no plans to try to remove this latest documented puma unless it came into direct conflict with people. He said, "The cat is staying out of trouble. Respect for the animals whenever and wherever is a first priority. We highly encourage folks to give them their space. And they are often so secretive they keep to themselves."

You can keep tabs on the latest confirmed puma sightings in the Midwest and elsewhere outside established mountain-lion range on the Cougar Network website.



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