Mystery Cat Investigator Dies

Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 23rd, 2007

Word has reached Cryptomundo of the death of one of the major Midwestern figures researching the question of the reality of pumas existing in Missouri.

Dave Hamilton

Dave Hamilton (left), Missouri Conservation Department Resource wildlife biologist, is showing examining a 105 pound puma found killed on Highway 54 shortly before midnight August 11, 2003, near Fulton, Missouri. Discovery of dark spots on its flanks and hindquarters, and barring on the inside of its front legs caused Hamilton to change his mind from this being an older puma to a finding it was a year-and-half or year old animal.

The Fulton animal was not overweight as found with captives. Its teeth were clean, as seen regularly in wild pumas. There were no obvious signs that it was formerly a captive animal. DNA analysis revealed its origin to be North America. It had a worm-infested (road-killed?) local gray squirrel in its stomach.

Mountain lions or pumas have been declared extinct in Missouri since 1927. They were extirpated from Iowa by 1867, Nebraska by 1890, Kansas by 1904 and from Wisconsin by 1908. The only place they are recognized to exist in the Midwest is the Black Hills of South Dakota, despite sightings in Missouri, Illinois, and other Plains and Midwestern states. Hamilton was interested in discovering if they were back. He documented several Missouri finds, although he remained doubtful about reports of black panthers.

Dave Hamilton, a longtime wildlife biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation who specialized in furbearers, died [September 8th, 2007] at his home in Columbia.

Hamilton, 52, helped direct policies for black bears, cougars and river otters as those creatures returned to the wilds of Missouri. He also was known nationally and internationally for his work on humane trapping methods, and he represented the U.S. three times during talks on international trade of furs.

“Dave’s effectiveness was a result not only of his energy, humor and creativity, but also of the genuine respect he held for people of all ideologies and walks of life,” said Dan Witter, a retired Conservation Department planner.“Noted Wildlife Biologist Dies,” Kansas City Star, Sept. 13, 2007.

Earlier this year we brought you the story of a mountain lion near Chillicothe. On that cold January afternoon, we had the pleasure to talk to Dave Hamilton from the Missouri Conservation Department.

After spending time with Dave, it was easy to see what a passion he had for his job. As a wildlife biologist, Dave probably knew more about big cats in Missouri than anyone else. We are very sad to report, Dave passed away earlier this month at the age of 52. In this day and age of high technology, Dave used simple technology to verify mountain lion sightings in the state. Now we’ll remember a demonstration with Dave.

“This is Max, we call him Max because he is maximum size of an adult male mountain lion from Colorado,” Dave said. “There are different sizes depending on what part of the country. Colorado has the largest, this is on the upper end of an adult male. So Max, if Max were real, he would weigh about 150 pounds. He’s about 8 feet long, they get up to 9 feet. He’s about 8 feet long.”

“Obviously the mountain lion can be controversial,” saysLarry Vangilder of the Department of Conservation. “And you know he [Dave] could work with people, he could kinda steer them towards what the real issues were with the mountain lions, and help them see the track was really a dog track, and not a mountain lion. So there was a teaching element there.”

“We want to line it up as best we can with the acutal spots, and take some measurements off the photograph, and give us an estimate about the size of the cat that was here,” Dave said later in his demonstration. “That’s for an adult male, his shoulder comes to right there. So this is, people think that thing is as big as an elephant. Well, it’s as big as a mountain lion.”

“His job obviously was incredibly important to the Conservation Department, and to the resources of the State of Missouri,” says Vangilder. “You know there are just some elements, you just can’t replace Dave, no doubt.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation doesn’t know who’s going to replace Dave, but we do know, his death was a huge loss when it comes to tracking mountain lions across Missouri.

Though those of us he left behind wonder how we will replace him, Hamilton seemed to be at peace. On the day of his death, Hamilton wrote in his journal “I need to show God every day how much I look forward to being with Him in Heaven.”“Remembering a Missouri Mountain Lion Expert,” KOMU, September 22, 2007.

For now, the official population status of mountain lions in Missouri is extirpated. The cats won’t have Dave Hamilton around to prove otherwise any longer.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

6 Responses to “Mystery Cat Investigator Dies”

  1. Ceroill responds:

    Condolences and best wishes for his family and loved ones.

  2. Alligator responds:

    The death of Mr. Hamilton was quite a shock. I didn’t know Dave personally but I work with people who did. I work for a “sister” agency and had attended training sessions where Dave discussed both mountain lions and black bears in our state. He didn’t want to belittle or riducule people who reported lions or “black panthers” but he merely wanted the physical proof – an indisputable photographic image, a track, hair or fecal samples, the animals body or a carcass showing clear signs of lion predation.

    He could listen to the most credible of eyewitness accounts and say “I don’t disbelieve you, but I need that corroborating physical evidence. ”
    That frustrated some people and they interpreted that as debunking, but it was not. That’s the just scientific method. But big cats being what they are, they often don’t leave evidence of their passing behind. However, since 1994 Dave verified ten lion sightings in our state. Many other credible reports lacked that verifiable “hard evidence.” My sighting was a case in point. I know what I saw, had two eye witnesses with me and was believed when I reported it, but the ground conditions just didn’t allow us to find any physical evidence.

    To be honest, I always suspected that Dave and the Department knew more than they told. I have my reasons for thinking they were purposefully being “low-key” on this issue. Dave was not being dishonest, he simply didn’t share everything because the media would have created a circus, the public would freak out, and the politicians would have gotten involved and people with guns would do stupid stuff in the woods to “end the lion menace.”

    We have lost a good guy, a valued colleague and an important resource in managing our wildlife resources.

  3. bill green responds:

    nice article , im so sorry to hear the passing of this researcher. thanks bill green

  4. sschaper responds:

    It is well-known that lions are back near Mankato, and the female’s offspring spread out over southern Minnesota and into Iowa.

    As to lions being extinct by 1867 in Iowa, significant portions of the State weren’t settled until the early 1880s, such as where I’m from, so how could that date be accurate?

  5. Alligator responds:

    sschaper, that date is probably the last “documented” case of a lion killed for which there is a record. Undoubtedly a few lions lingered in more remote corners, but no one reported their passing. For example, the last “documented” lion shot in Missouri was 1927. Sporadic reports persisted in the Ozarks since then, but with no “documentable” evidence. Then in 1994, the physical evidence for started showing up. We’re now averaging one or two confirmations a year.

    Don’t know what part of Iowa you’re from, but historically most of the state was open prairie. Not as good a hiding place for lions as say the forests of the Ozarks. Also, Iowa was better buffalo country than deer country (cougars primary prey) Therefore, it stands to reason that the population density of lions was lighter in prairie areas. Fewer lions and less cover means they have been shot out sooner. Remember, just because an area was not “settled” does not mean that it was not regularly visited by hunters, trappers, etc.

    It might interest you to know that Iowa has had eight confirmations of lions in recent years, Missouri ten and Illinois two. A radio collared lion was recently found on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The population in the Black Hills and front slope of the Rockies is pushing east, and they are undoubtedly following the river systems into their former habitat. As you pointed out indications are there are reproducing populations established in Minnesota. Dr. Maurice Hornocker, believes that in another ten years we will know just how well lion populations are being re-established in the Midwestern states.

    The bobcat population is exploding everywhere. Better game laws, habitat conservation, CRS programs and the number of people hunting or trapping them has steadily declined over the years.

  6. mojdfiv responds:

    Sorry to hear of Daves passing. I also wanted to add that I live in north central Missouri and I have on a few occasions seen a “black panther” as Alligator mentioned above. It been probably a year or so ago while taking my wife to a doctors visit but as we were coming around a corner by her mothers house in macon county we both saw a “panther” looking cat running across the road. Perhaps a low population and inbreeding has cause the lions in this area to have black coats.

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