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Occasional Wildlife Visitors to Iowa

Populations of large mammals, once native to Iowa, have been gone from the Iowa landscape for 80 to 100 years. While we no longer have breeding populations of these animals in Iowa, expanding populations in nearby states increases the potential to receive visits from wandering animals. Many of these large animals can move a great distance in a relatively short amount of time and in many cases, they only visit our state for a short time before passing through. The Iowa DNR has not stocked any of these large mammals in the state and has no plans to do so. Also, check out our Population Trends and reports page, which provides more information including our annual trends logbook, the bowhunter observation survey, and the spring spotlight survey.

Both northern Minnesota and northern and eastern Wisconsin are home to breeding populations of gray wolves. The southern edge of the Minnesota range is just 175 miles north of the Iowa border. The southern edge of the Wisconsin gray wolf range is just 50 miles away. The Mississippi River and its tributaries likely provide natural travel corridors across state borders. Wolves and coyotes are secretive animals that can easily be misidentified and confused with each other. Wolves are a protected species in Iowa.

Both Minnesota and Wisconsin are home to breeding populations of black bears. Southern Missouri has a small but expanding population of bears, and a few bears still inhabit the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Mountain Lions
Both South Dakota and Nebraska are home to small breeding populations of mountain lions. On occasion, young males (2 to– 3 years old) approaching adulthood get chased from their home territories by older, dominant males. These roaming animals sometimes make long treks in their search for a new territory. While Iowa might offer ample food, it lacks the vast expanse of wild country and female mates that these young males seek. So they often continue moving on, which means there are no breeding populations in Iowa. The Iowa DNR has not stocked mountain lions and has no plans to do so.

From time to time, a moose will wander into Iowa from northern Minnesota. These are usually young bulls and they rarely stay long. Unlike mountain lions, wolves and bears, moose are not very secretive and really stand out in Iowa, especially in harvested crop fields. Their locations are usually well-documented in the local media as the public reports sightings. Moose are a protected species in Iowa. You can find out more about Minnesota’s moose on their website at