Are There Mountain Lions In Iowa? Everything You Need To Know

Mountain Lions In Iowa

If we think about the words ‘United States of America’ and ‘big cats’ together, what are the things that come to mind? Strong, agile mountain lions slinking around the mountainsides, right? 

But things aren’t really that simple, especially when over half the US states don’t even have mountain lion populations. Are we doomed to failure while hoping to catch a glimpse of the infamous puma?

Are There Mountain Lions In Iowa?

Iowa is one of the many, many states that doesn’t actually have a resident mountain lion population. Sure, there are sightings from time to time when one of the big cats decides to wander in from a neighboring state. But that doesn’t make things official.

Were they native to the state at one point? Yes, of course they were. But alas, the early European settlers thought of them as a menace to human beings and decided to hunt them to extinction. (The mountain lions weren’t alone in this, by the way, as the same thing happened to many different predators like wolves and bears.)

How Many Mountain Lions Are In The State Of Iowa?

Officially there are zero mountain lions in the state of Iowa. How’s that possible, you might ask, since there are regular sightings? Well, it’s like people going to work in or visit one state while all their documents say they were born and brought up somewhere else. The mountain lions are tourists, you see, not residents. And that makes all the difference. 

The last resident mountain lion in Iowa lived all the way back in 1867 before it met its tragic end at the business end of a gun. Apparently, some people didn’t appreciate how close it was to the town of Cincinnati. No wonder mountain lions stay away from us. We really haven’t been too good to them, have we?  

Where Are Mountain Lions In Iowa?

Mountain Lions In Iowa

Since South Dakota is the closest state that the mountain lions can wander in from, a lot of the sightings have been in the northwest of the state. But young male lions are great walkers and they can cross hundreds of miles over months. Northcentral Iowa is the region where there aren’t any confirmed sightings of mountain lions at all.

Recently, there was a mountain lion that decided to take a stroll through the southern parts of Iowa. It visited the counties of Wapello, Monroe, Lucas, Clarke, Union, and Adams. This young lion was a resident of Nebraska who it seems was in the mood for a tour of Iowa.

Also, Check Our Guide On Mountain Lions In the U.S.

How Did Mountain Lions Get In Iowa?

The same way that mountain lions get anywhere, by walking on their own four feet and fearlessly crossing state borders. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has tracked many big cats that have come from South Dakota and Nebraska and even much further west, like Wyoming. 

We don’t usually acknowledge how unsafe these journeys could actually be for the cougars. They have to cross numerous highways and interstates, which could lead to a horrendous death by car crash. The ones who actually manage to complete such vast journeys are heroes.   

Mountain Lion Sightings In Iowa?

Mountain lion sightings are very common in Iowa. One fascinating bit of trivia we’ve managed to uncover is that it happens much more in summer than in winter. Since vegetation cover is much higher in summer than during the dry winter, we wonder why that would be. Maybe the cats just like summering in Iowa, like a vacation.

At least 2-4 sightings per week are reported from all over the state. Of course, all of these sightings aren’t confirmed but that’s still a very high number. Iowa has very large deer populations and deer is the mountain lion’s favorite food. You would think more deer hunters would report seeing lions but surprisingly they don’t. 

The most recent sighting was a mountain lion that was caught on camera in Indianola this past September. Last year at around the same time, this had happened two separate times. We wonder if it’s the same mountain lion. Is it thinking of making a home in the region?

Can You Shoot a Mountain Lion In Iowa?

Mountain Lions In Iowa

You wouldn’t have a law to protect things that don’t exist, right? So Iowa too does not have any rules about protecting mountain lions (since they don’t have an official population living there). You’re legally allowed to shoot mountain lions in Iowa and it ends up happening much more often than you’d think.

The Department of Natural Resources does not encourage the random shooting of solitary mountain lions that have wandered into the state. Unfortunately, they end up being killed anyway more often than not. The DNR tried to pass legislation to protect the wild cats unless they were harming humans or livestock but failed.

What Big Cats Live In Iowa?

The answer to that is none of the big cats (which only includes jaguars and mountain lions where the US is concerned) live in Iowa. All the way back in the 1800s, Iowa played host to not just mountain lions but also lynxes and bobcats. Unfortunately, the former two have been hunted to extinction. 

The bobcat almost shared their fate but managed to desperately hang on with its last claws. 

They’re the only kind of wild cats that now roam the state and are often mistaken for their much bigger mountain lion cousins. The distinguishing feature is the mountain lion’s pride and joy–its tail–which is much longer and fluffier than the humble bobcat’s.

Also, Read About Mountain Lions in Kansas


And that was everything about the Mountain Lion in Iowa. I hope this article answers all your questions.

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