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Crestone Eagle, March 2005:
Our neighbors, the mountain lions
It was a warm summer evening in the Grants, over by Spanish
Creek, around 10pm, when Donna Conrad was heading to her van
after checking on a house she was caring for. As she approached
her van in the dark, the house’s auto security light
went on, and in the light she could see, sitting about ten
feet away from her van, a large mountain lion.
“I saw his eyes first, but he just sat there and didn’t
stand up till I was able to get to the van and open the door,“
recalls Conrad. Lucky for her this cat behaved the way most
of them do when they see humans, and all turned out okay.
Although running into lions is considered a rare event, even
in the mountains, it seems many of us around Crestone have
had close encounters with them in the past.
Colorado is prime mountain lion country. These large, powerful
predators have always lived here, preying on deer and other
wildlife, and playing an important role in the ecosystem.
Perhaps the old Beach Boys song, “I Get Around”,
could best be used to describe the mountain lion. They have
the largest geographic range of any native American mammal,
other than humans—from Canada to Argentina.
They once ranged from coast to coast in the United States,
but today eastern populations are extinct or endangered. (A
small population still exists in southern Florida. Most of
the rest back east were killed off by early settlers.) Remote
areas of the western U.S. are their stronghold, from deserts
to coast range forest, and from sea level to up to 10,000
feet (although tracks have been spotted in our mountains above
They also can be found in parts of the US upper mid-west,
western Canada and much of Mexico. In Colorado they are most
abundant in the foothills and in many canyons in the state.
For the most part, where there are deer, there are mountain
lions, too. Here in Colorado there seems to be more reports
of lions on the Front Range than anywhere else, but that is
only because there are more people living there and moving
into lion habitat.
Mountain lions hold the record as the mammal with the most
names, as they are also known as cougar, panther, puma, catamount,
or just plain lion, to name a few. The scientific name is
Felis concolor, meaning "Cat all of one color".
There is an on going Colorado state study to get a better
count on their true numbers. For now, the Division of Wildlife
estimates there are between 3,000 and 7,000 lions in Colorado,
with the number most likely in the 4,500 to 5,000 range. Here,
in and around Crestone, there is believed to be between one
to four lions who call this area home. An adult male's home
range can span well over 100 square miles, but usually is
less than that. Females generally use smaller areas, about
25 square mile, and their ranges can overlap. Lucky for us,
of late there have been no problem reports involving lions
here in town; in fact, none have even been spotted here since
Mountain lions are active year round. They live for an average
of 12-13 years in the wild, but in captivity they can live
for over 20 years. Adult males may be more than 8 feet long
from nose to end of tail and generally weigh between 130 and
150 pounds. Adult females can be 7 feet long and weigh between
65 and 90 pounds.
Female lions generally reproduce when they are about 2 1/2
years old, and they may breed at any time of year, but mating
peaks in the spring. Births are most common in July. Two or
three spotted, fist-sized kittens are a typical litter. After
a few months the kittens lose their spots.
Lions are generally nocturnal, and are carnivores and solitary
hunters. Most lions hunt at both dusk and dawn. Sometimes,
however, lions are not nocturnal because they need to be active
at the time their prey is active. Research indicates that
about 80-90% of a lion's diet is deer. An adult lion will
kill and eat one deer per week. Other prey species include
elk, rabbit, raccoon, birds, and they will also kill and eat
domestic livestock and pets.
There are some myths about lions, including that they lurk
in the treetops waiting to ambush anything that passes by.
Not true, as they hunt on the ground and ambush their prey
from behind. Also, contrary to popular belief, there are no
known black ‘panthers’; no one has ever captured
or killed a black mountain lion.
The potential for being killed or injured by a mountain lion
is quite low compared to other natural hazards. You’re
more likely to be struck by lightning than be attacked by
a lion. Normally, lions are very elusive and stay away from
people. They are, however, unpredictable and have been known
to attack people. So should we worry about them or not? Well,
at least be aware that they are around. Observations of captured
wild mountain lions reveal that the animals seem especially
drawn to children, as they see them as prey because of their
Records are sketchy, but between 1890-1995, there were approximately
70 cougar attacks on humans in the United States and Canada.
Thirteen of these attacks were fatal and 57 resulted in nonfatal
maulings. Since that time there have been several more attacks,
including a few more deadly ones, both here in Colorado and
out in California.
The last two deaths in Colorado took place in the last seven
years. In both cases, preteen boys hiking on mountain trails
alone were killed. Parents must remember to keep their children
within their sight at all times while on trails, and even
here in town. Closely supervise your children whenever they
play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and
not outside before dawn. You should be with your children
while they wait for the school bus to pick them up in the
morning. Talk with children about lions and teach them what
to do if they meet one. We have never had problems with lions
here in town involving any of our children—so let’s
be proactive and keep it that way.
To reduce the chances of an encounter with a Mountain Lion,
avoid hiking alone, especially between dusk and dawn, when
lions normally do their hunting. Hike with a good walking
stick; this can be useful in warding off a lion. Also, when
you leave your home at night, before you open your door, turn
on an outside light and take a good look around before you
If you encounter a Mountain Lion, stay calm and face the lion.
Do not run because this may trigger the lion's instinct to
attack. Try to appear larger by raising your hands. Pick up
small children so they don't panic and run. This will also
make you appear larger. Avoid bending over or crouching. If
the lion acts aggressively, throw rocks, branches, or whatever
can be obtained without turning your back or bending over.
Fight back if attacked. Since a mountain lion usually tries
to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face
the attacking animal. Most important, report any mountain
lion sightings, especially if you see one in town.