Big cats have brush with suburbia

Posted 8/27/10

Littleton police officers called to help find a mountain lion near Progress Park Aug. 11 did not see the cat, but heard it growl, according to the …

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Big cats have brush with suburbia


Littleton police officers called to help find a mountain lion near Progress Park Aug. 11 did not see the cat, but heard it growl, according to the department’s public information officer, Sean Dugan.

“I don’t have information that they pulled their guns but I would expect them to,” Dugan said.

With two instances of mountain lions venturing into the metro area recently — on the border of Littleton and Englewood on Aug. 10 and Wheat Ridge on Aug. 26 — local police departments have been called to assist the Colorado Division of Wildlife in trying to locate the animals.

Mountain lions making their way into the metro area from the foothills is not that unusual, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife Northeast Region Public Information Officer Jennifer Churchill.

“Mountain lions absolutely make their way into town on occasion, especially if they are dispersing young trying to find territories to themselves,” she said. “They may find themselves in territories that probably aren’t the best habitat for them. About five times a year we have them wind up in strange places.”

Colorado’s biggest cats will sometimes get as far east as Aurora and Parker, probably because they follow drainages and greenbelts from the foothills into town, Churchill said.

In most cases, lions will be able to make their way back to the foothills without any problem by waiting for the cover of darkness, which is probably what happened in the Englewood lion’s case. But when they don’t, the DOW is called to assist.

The behavior of the mountain lion — or cougar, as they’re also known — dictates what will happen, Churchill said. If the animal does not show any aggression, it will probably be tranquilized and moved back to the foothills.

Although Littleton Humane Officer Terry Carr has a tranquilizer rifle, he said officers would probably just try to locate the animal, keep it in sight and call the DOW.

Two mountain lions venturing into urban areas within two weeks of each other is nothing more than a coincidence, Churchill said.

Although these situations unnerve people, Churchill said mountain lion attacks on people are very rare.

“We have a pretty healthy (mountain lion) population here in Colorado and they are out there all the time and they aren’t attacking people all the time,” she said. “The risk is pretty low. They are out there and they watch us and they go about their business and eat deer and elk and raccoons.”

The key, Churchill said, is for people to do what makes them feel comfortable. If you have a fear of mountain lions and are elderly and frail, think about carrying a walking stick to defend yourself, she said. For some people, the risk is so low they do not modify their behavior in mountain lion habitat at all.

Although instances of mountain lions in the city are not that unusual, they are pretty infrequent.

“We have a lot of wildlife in Colorado and (people) should try to find the good in that,” Churchill said.

Dugan said the last instance of a mountain lion in the city of Littleton was a few years ago when one of the animals was found dead near the Mineral Avenue light rail station. It may have been hit by a car, he said.

“It’s pretty rare, but it does happen,” Dugan said. “A lion sighting at Belleview and Broadway would be very surprising for your officers. “It’s not your every day call.”

It is estimated that between 3,000 and 7,000 cougars live in Colorado, according to the DOW. The cats generally range in weight between 80 and 160 pounds and are usually more than 6 feet long. The animals are fast, too, capable of running at speeds of up to 35 mph.

Churchill says to teach children the SMART things to do when they encounter not just a mountain lion, but any wild animal. Stop, don’t run; Make yourself look big; Announce your presence by saying “leave me alone;” Retreat by backing away slowly; Tell an adult.

Mountain lions like to go where there is abundant prey, like deer and elk. Churchill says not to feed deer or elk or do anything to attract them to your property.

“I would encourage people to keep deer away from their home,” she said.

If you see a mountain lion in areas near the foothills or open space, Churchill recommends calling the DOW to report it.


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