Increase in Vail-area mountain lion sightings may be caused by humans feeding other wildlife

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Mountain lions are roaming through residential areas around Vail. Photo courtesy CPW.

‘We have lions in the area, and in fact, they have been here for quite some time with very few incidents …’

Staff Report

Colorado wildlife managers say recent sightings of mountain lions around Vail may be the result of humans feeding prey animals, especially foxes. A string of recent lion sightings have a common thread, according to long-time district wildlife manager Bill Andree.

At each location where lion conflicts have been reported, there have also been red foxes present. Andree said it’s possible that people are feeding foxes or allowing trash and other attractants to be available. That can be a major catalyst for serious interactions with mountain lions, he cautioned.

This week, a man walking his dog near Buffehr Creek Road north of Interstate 70 in Vail told wildlife officers that he witnessed his pet come nose to nose with a lion. The dog was not injured in the incident. Less than a mile away, a woman reported that her dog remains missing and although not yet confirmed, evidence indicates a predator may be responsible for its disappearance.

In late January, a lion attacked and killed a dog in the backyard of a Vail residence. Wildlife officers tracked the lion responsible for the attack but it has not been located. Wildlife managers say residents of the area should educate themselves about lions and supervise their pets and kids.

“We have lions in the area, and in fact, they have been here for quite some time with very few incidents,” Andree said. “Although I can say that we definitely have more lions today, we also have more people and pets here as well, so that’s likely one of the reasons for increased sightings and interactions.”

Despite the recent surge in reports and sightings, in addition to rumors and hearsay on social media, lion attacks are rare in Colorado. Since 1990, three incidents have resulted in a human fatality, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife records. However, because lions are powerful predators, officials stress that people should remain vigilant at all times and become educated about the species.

“Keep in mind that a typical female lion weighs about 80 to 100 pounds and they do not hunt humans, they are after four-legged prey,” said Andree. “That’s important perspective for people to keep in mind, but we do advise that although the chances are slim, a serious lion conflict is always a possibility.”

“The most important thing people need to do to is to stop attracting a lion’s prey to their homes,” said Andree. “If you are feeding any wildlife, baiting animals or leaving pet food and trash out, you are contributing directly to possible lion encounters in which people and pets are at risk.”

Wildlife officials stress that once a lion or other animal finds a reliable source of human-provided food, it can lose its natural fear of people and continue to return, even to a residential area.

“Learning how to coexist with wildlife is a significant part of living in Colorado, but that does not include feeding them,” Andree said. “That is an extremely important point for people to remember and we take it seriously. We will issue citations in cases where people are feeding or harassing wildlife.”

Andree adds that Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s goal is maintaining healthy populations of a wide variety of species, and lions are a part of those efforts. He says that hunting remains the primary tool the agency relies upon to achieve its management objectives.

“Where hunting is not allowed or possible, it limits our ability to maintain populations in accordance with available habitat, social preferences and other considerations,” he said. “If we lose hunting as an option, it could lead to further increases in lion populations and more conflicts, so it is important that we retain that critical tool.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers extensive information on its website.  If you live in lion country, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Don’t feed any wildlife. It attracts lion prey like foxes, raccoons and deer. Predators follow prey.
  • Avoid planting non-native shrubs and plants that deer prefer to eat. It might encourage wildlife to come onto your property.
  • ​Make noise if you come and go during the times mountain lions are most active—dusk to dawn.
  • Install outside lighting in areas where you walk so you could see a lion if one were present.
  • Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
  • Landscape or remove vegetation to eliminate hiding places for lions, especially around children’s play areas. Make it difficult for lions to approach unseen.
  • Keep your pet under control. Roaming pets are easy prey and can attract lions. Bring pets in at night. If you leave your pet outside, keep it in a kennel with a secure top.
  • Don’t feed pets outside; this can attract raccoons and other animals that are eaten by lions. Store all garbage securely.
  • Place livestock in enclosed sheds or barns at night. Close doors to all outbuildings since inquisitive lions may go inside for a look.
  • When you walk or hike in mountain lion country, go in groups and make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. A sturdy walking stick can ward off a lion. Make sure children are close to you and within your sight at all times. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
  • Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
  • Stay calm when you come upon a lion. Talk calmly yet firmly to it. Move slowly.
  • Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Do not turn and run! Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.
  • Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run.
  • If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. Convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion.
  • Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions can be driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and their bare hands successfully. Remain standing or try to get back up!
  • Encourage your neighbors to follow these simple precautions. Prevention is far better than a possible lion confrontation.

For more information about Living with Wildlife, go to http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlife.aspx.

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