The home where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play have added some new neighbors in the last few months. These new travelers are following a well-established habit among big animals.
A hunter's trail camera caught positive proof that mountain lions are traveling though Kansas.
In the space of less than a week, Pratt County recorded not one but two elk sightings including a photograph of an elk on the move west of Pratt and a motor vehicle accident with another on the east side of the county.
Now the state has recorded its first wolf sighting since 1905.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism posted a story on their website on Jan. 31 that coyote hunters in northwest Kansas had killed an animal in December 2012 that was too big to be a coyote.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gathered tissue samples and determined the animal was a full-blooded Great Lakes gray wolf, according to the KDWPT story.
While sightings of these animals are rare in Kansas, they are part of the natural trait among big male animals to leave their family and seek out areas for food, territory and to start a family, said Lloyd Fox, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks big game coordinator.
"It's a universal mammalian trait," Fox said. "It's not specific to wolves or mountain lions or elk or moose."
These animals stay with their family until they reach a certain age then they disperse and begin a search for a new place to colonize that has a good source of food and possibly a mate. If they are successfully, they can start a new population in that area, Fox said.
Many times they are not successful and return home. These travels can be dangerous to the animals as they travel across the country and the road system.
The animals first look for a place they can survive. When these animals move away from their parental home range they face a lot of factors including environment, food, habitat, predators and new diseases. All these factors cause a high mortality to these dispersal animals.
If they happen to find the right combination they can develop a new colony, Fox said.
When a coyote hunter in northwest Kansas shot an animal that turned out to be a wolf, it was another example of big animals looking for new territory.
Wolves have been tracked out of the Black Hills in South Dakota for years and for a wolf to travel long distances is not unusual, said John Jenks, South Dakota State University distinguished professor of natural resource management.
From 1998 to the present, over 300 wolves from the Black Hills of South Dakota have been banded and tracked. The dispersal animals will live with their family for the first 14 to 16 months and reach from 86 to 120 pounds before leaving the family and look for new territory, food supply and mates.
Page 2 of 2 - These sub adult male wolves have traveled in all directions with animals tracked to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Connecticut and Oklahoma.
Sub adult males, like the one found in Kansas, will go looking for new space and may fight with territory holders. About 90 percent of the sub adults will lose the fight and have to continue looking, Jenks said.
Many of the wolves would travel from 25 miles to 50 miles then return to the Black Hills. They also look for mates and if unsuccessful will also return.
The longest traveled of these banded wolves was one found dead in Oklahoma after a traveling a straight line distance of 666 miles over a period of about 266 days, Jenks said.
Banded animals don't necessarily come from the Black Hills. Groups in Colorado and Montana have also been banded. Some Colorado wolves have been found in Nebraska and may reach Kansas as well.
Although elk, mountain lion and wolf are traveling Kansas it is unlikely they will establish a new colony here but don't ever say never, Fox said.
Why some animals flourish in some areas and don't in others can be puzzling. Mule deer do well in western and central Kansas but have not expanded into eastern Kansas. Pheasants have not been successful in Southeast Kansas. Why these animals have not been successful in these is a mystery, Fox said.
Whatever the animal, if they find the right island of habitat, they will be successful.