Are There Mountain Lions In South Dakota? Everything You Need To Know

Mountain Lions In South Dakota

Just imagine that you’re a passionate animal lover. It’s your dream to spot the mountain lion and take pictures of the big cat. Well, you’re in for a shock. Spotting those elusive animals is a one-in-a-million chance. There are people in the US who live next to mountain lions and go their entire lives without seeing one.

So let’s find out if you can spot on in South Dakota.

Are There Mountain Lions In South Dakota?

We all know that mountain lions stick to just a few western states in the US. South Dakota is about as far east as the mountain lion goes. (Apart from Florida, which is the only East Coast state to have resident mountain lions.) 

South Dakota’s actually got a very small number of mountain lions (277 in total). Compared to states like Oregon and Colorado, it’s practically nothing. But we should remember that South Dakota was recolonized by mountain lions very, very recently. It’ll take time for them to build up their numbers. Meanwhile, we should just rejoice that there’s one more state where the big cats are thriving.

Where Do Mountain Lions Live In South Dakota?

There’s a breeding population of mountain Lions in the Black Hills. Most of South Dakota doesn’t have ideal terrain for mountain lions. The animals are confined to the southern and western parts of the state.

The Black Hills are the easternmost part of the Rockies and have the rocky mountain terrain that mountain lions love. They’re surrounded by grasslands and the Northern Great Plains which mountain lions don’t love. 

It doesn’t give them the cover they need to hunt. It’s why the cats are confined to the hilly regions. At least they’ve got plenty of prey, since there are large herds of deer and elk in the Black Hills.

Mountain Lion Sightings In South Dakota?

Mountain Lions In South Dakota

Mountain lions usually avoid humans, right? So how can there be sightings? Well, if you’re hiking out in the mountains, you might come across one. After all, you’re encroaching on their territory. But what if the reverse happens and they encroach on yours?

A few months ago, there was a shocking situation where an adult mountain lion was found up in a tree in Spearfish. What on earth was the wild animal doing in the city? 

It must have wandered in by mistake and gotten confused. Thankfully, wildlife officials managed to tranquilize the animal and relocate it without any problems. 

But the scary thing? Mountain lions are ambush hunters. And a number of children probably walked under the tree as the lion was sitting in it. Thank goodness it wasn’t in the mood to attack. It was probably hiding from the noise and chaos.

In March, a man spotted and photographed a mountain lion trying to cross a busy street in Rapid City. It failed to cross and soon turned around and sped away in the other direction. Let’s hope it managed to make its way back to the more hospitable Black Hills.

Mountain Lion Attacks In South Dakota?

Mountain lion attacks are so rare they’re practically negligible. You’re more likely to be attacked by a dog than a mountain lion. These animals shy away from humans and like the peace and quiet of the wilderness. South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks says that they make note of all sightings but there’s never been a fatal mountain lion attack in South Dakota.

What Is the Largest Mountain Lion Killed In South Dakota?

In 2011, a man shot a male mountain lion that weighed 177 pounds. Since South Dakota allowed hunting in 2005, this is the largest mountain lion that has been killed in the state. An average adult male usually weighs 150 pounds but they can get much bigger in exceptional cases.

Can You Kill a Mountain Lion In South Dakota?

Mountain Lions In South Dakota

You would think that a state with fewer than 300 mountain lions wouldn’t allow you to kill them. But you’re allowed to hunt mountain lions in the Black Hills during open season. There’s a limit, of course. It’s either 60 lions in total or a maximum of 40 females. You’ve got to report all deaths to GFP which regulates the mountain lion population in South Dakota. 

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

What To Do If You See a Mountain Lion In South Dakota?

Report it at once, especially if it’s close to a city or far away from the Black Hills. The wildlife officials have to decide whether they need to relocate the animal or not. Don’t try to kill it because there are laws about the killing of mountain lions in South Dakota. 

You’re unlikely to come across a mountain lion suddenly. If you’re out hiking in the wild, it’s possible. In that case, keep eye contact with the animal and talk to it loudly and firmly. It won’t like that one bit and will probably slink away at once. 

If you’ve got a jacket with you, raise it above your head and try to look big and intimidating. Always hike with groups and make noise. Mountain lions have keen ears and will try to avoid human beings if they can hear them coming.

A direct attack would be very rare. Unless it’s a mother with cubs. If it attacks, you definitely should fight back. Playing dead won’t help with a lion and humans have managed to fight them off before.

What Other Big Cats Are In South Dakota?

Mountain lions are the only kind of big cats that are native to South Dakota. What are big cats exactly? Lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards, cheetahs and cougars. Since most of these don’t even live on the continent, there’s exactly zero chance of seeing them in South Dakota. Jaguars do live in America but mostly in the southwest. 

The only other kind of wild cats are bobcats. These lynxes are much smaller than the mountain lion. But in a moment of excitement, the human eye can confuse them with their bigger relatives. Keep an eye on the tail. The short bobbed tails of the bobcat are very different from the long and fluffy tails of the mountain lion.

Also, Read About Mountain Lions In South Carolina


And that was everything about the Mountain lions in South Dakota. I hope this article answers all your questions.

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