A mountain lion was hit by a car recently near Fullerton, Nebraska, and the animal was later found dead. The event is so rare for this state or any other that it made national news and received more than 1,200 Facebook shares within just a few days. What, exactly, did this big cat do wrong?
It’s relatively common for vehicles to collide with deer in the US and Canada. A dead whitetail on a highway shoulder hardly warrants a second glance. The Nebraska cat didn’t die immediately and make for a rubber-necking spectacle.
Was the animal injured and agitated? Did it pose a risk to area residents? Did it succumb to injuries in the nearby wooded area? The answer didn’t come until the following day.
Mountain lions are incredibly secretive animals and, as predators, don’t have the “freeze in the headlights” instinct that deer do. Think about how sly and death-avoidant house cats are. If they have nine lives, mountain lions must have 90 — except for this one.
The Nance County Sheriff’s Department received a phone call at around 8:30 p.m. the night of the collision, reporting that an accident had occurred north of the Loup River Bridge just south of Fullerton. The driver said they had struck what appeared to be a mountain lion.
On the scene, deputies located evidence that a mountain lion was hit by a car, but the cat was nowhere to be found. The incident occurred in an area with multiple residential homes. An agitated and wounded mountain lion can be dangerous, so police and personnel from the state Game and Parks Commission searched for the lion but turned up nothing. Authorities instructed area residents to be on the lookout for a potentially dangerous and injured lion.
The sheriff’s department issued a statement on its Facebook page that read: “An injured predator such as a mountain lion can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable if encountered in the wild. We encourage everyone to be aware of your surroundings, and if you do come across an injured animal, do not approach it, leave the area slowly and cautiously, then contact the Sheriff’s Office.”
The search team eventually found the animal around noon the following day with help from a police drone outfitted with a thermal camera, which located a heat source in the timber adjacent to the roadway. The drone pilot guided a deputy to the heat source, which was, in fact, a dead male mountain lion. The cat had clearly died from injuries sustained from being hit by a vehicle.
Mountain lions are rarely killed by cars on roadways. Mountain lions have nowhere near the distribution of whitetail deer; their traditional range includes only the Western half of the country, although lion sightings aren’t out of the question in the Midwest and East. Another subspecies, the Florida panther, roams the Sunshine State. But car-cat collisions do occasionally happen:
- A Texas mountain lion was killed by a vehicle in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley in early March 2021.
- A collared mountain lion known as P-78 was found dead in late March 2021 and authorities suspect it died from vehicle-imposed injuries.
- Another collared mountain lion known as P-23 was killed by a vehicle in California’s Santa Monica Mountains.
Interestingly, when P-23 was found dead in 2018, it was the 18th California mountain lion struck and killed by a vehicle since 2002.
Maybe mountain lion car accidents aren’t so rare after all, at least in California.