MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNW) — The number of mountain lions spotted in Kansas has grown over the past 15 years.

According to wildlife experts at Kansas State University, there have been at least 50 confirmed mountain lion sightings since 2007. In 2020 there were 15 confirmed sightings, but that number is deceptive.

“During that year, based on the distribution and timing of pictures in Kansas, we think we had three cats moving through the state,” Drew Ricketts, K-State wildlife specialist, said. “Most of those 15 pictures would have been of one of those three cats.”

Mountain lions were once a common predator on the Kansas plains, along with gray wolves, black bears, and even grizzly bears, before pioneer settlement. The animals were eliminated because of the threat they posed to farmers and ranchers settling in Kansas.

Ricketts believes that the mountain lions we are seeing in Kansas are likely the offspring created by a breeding program in the Dakotas.

“These are typically younger mountain lions that are getting kicked out of mom’s home range, and then they go looking for good habitat with another mountain lion that could be a potential mate,” Ricketts says. “They’re not finding another mountain lion in Kansas because we don’t have a breeding population here. So, we get these transient individuals that are moving through.”

Ricketts says you shouldn’t have to worry about aggressive behavior from them. However, he says you shouldn’t approach the animals. He also says all sightings should be reported to local wildlife officials.