- Texas Mountain Lions - Current Status
Currently, Mountain Lions in the state of Texas are classified as unprotected, nongame animals. Under this classification, the numbers of Mountain Lions being killed is unregulated which means that Mountain Lions can be killed year round regardless of age or sex. In addition, mountain lions in Texas have no bag limit and can be killed in any number.
The population is mainly restricted to the western part of Texas (Trans-Pecos region and the western part of the Edward’s plateau) and to southern Texas.
Most Mountain Lion mortalities in Texas are due to predator control activities (traps, snares, or poison) or due to opportunistic hunting.
The true effect of unregulated killing on the Texas Mountain Lion population is unknown. The few studies that have been done indicate the following (see tables below for more detailed data):
- Mountain lions are experiencing low survivorship mainly due to predator control and hunting practices (Tables 1- 4).
- A high percentage of female mountain lions is being killed, a fact indicating that the population is being harvested at an unsustainable level (more lions are being killed than survive) (Table 6).
- Due to killing practices, mountain lions exhibit a skewed age group (population mainly composed of younger individuals), an unhealthy situation for a wild (or any) animal population (Table 5).
It is unclear how many Mountain Lions currently live in the state of Texas. More research is needed in order to determine the health and viability of the state’s Mountain Lion population.
Mountain Lion Mortality Rates (Tables 1 - 4)
- Individuals with fate unknown were excluded from the analysis.
- Individuals not part of the sampled, collared group were excluded from the analysis.
- The effect of trapping, sedating and collaring Mountain Lions on mortality rate is unknown. It is possible that the act of collaring the lions increases mortality by an unknown factor.
**Adams, 2003 – South Texas (1999 – 2001)
By 1999, only four Mountain Lions originally collared by Harveson in 1994 were still alive. Number originally collared, 21; number considered for this analysis, 18; overall mortality, 77.8%.
Studies show that annual mortality rates exceeding 25% result in Mountain Lion population decline. (Cougar Management Guidelines, chapter 4).
Texas Mountain Lions - Age Structure
A population composed of younger individuals indicates that the Mountain Lions, who live in the wild 12 to 13 years, do not survive long and are being killed at an average age of 2.86 years (Table 5).
This age distribution is characteristic of an exploited Mountain Lion population (Smith 1990, Harveson et al. 1996)
Age-Sex Composition Analysis
Studies show there is a correlation between the age and sex of killed Mountain Lions within a harvested population and the level of exploitation (killing) of that population*.
The study provides the following information regarding Mountain Lions' vulnerability (susceptibility) to being killed (see also explanation below):
The list is from the MOST vulnerable to LEAST vunerable:
- Subadult males due to their great dispersal distances
- Resident males due to their large territories
- Subadult females (during their dispersal periods)
- Resident females without young (larger territories)**
- Females with older (>6 months) kittens (medium size territories)
- Females with young (<6 months) kittens (smallest territories)
Studies show that in a highly hunted/exploited population, as the level of exploitation increased and the population declined, the proportion of adult females in the harvest increased, the proportion of sub-adults in the harvest decreased and the mean age of harvested adult females decreased (Cougar Management Guidelines, 2005).
Table 6 indicates the high percentage of females comprising the reported harvested Mountain Lions in Texas. Despite the small sample size, more than half the Mountain Lions killed are females, an indicator that the less vulnerable part of the population is being killed, which may mean overexploitation of the population***.
* Barnhurst 1986; Stoner 2004; Anderson and Lindzey 2005; Choate et al. 2006; Mountain Lion Management Plan, Wyoming Game and Fish Department 2006.
** Females are known to decrease their territory size when they have dependent young and begin increasing it as their young gain more independence.
*** The relationship between overexploitation of a Mountain Lion population and the sex-age of the animals killed is as follows:
- Subadult males are the most vulnerable individuals within a Mountain Lion population in terms of being killed. They are the ones that will disperse farthest from their mother’s territory seeking an empty territory or attempting to take over another male’s territory. Therefore, those young male mountain lions are the ones we mostly expect to see in a healthy, but harvested population.
- Adult Males are the second most vulnerable Mountain Lions within a healthy Mountain Lion population since they occupy large territories and may seek females throughout that area and beyond.
- Female Mountain Lions, especially adult females, are the least vulnerable individuals. They have established territories which they occupy to different degrees based on their cubs’ age (when the cubs are young the mother protects a small area and increases that area as her cubs mature). Nevertheless, adult females should not be found in high proportion in a healthy, harvested Mountain Lion population. If they are, it is an indication that the population is overexploited when it comes to the number of Mountain Lions being killed.