Lions are here

A woman walking her dog Wednesday morning reported seeing a mountain lion in the area of 33 and C roads, near a school bus stop, said Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

“The lion was about 70 yards away,” sitting near a heavily used deer trail, Hampton said.

An officer from the DOW responded, but was unable to find the cat or any tracks. But from the woman’s description of the animal, “He thinks it probably was a lion,” Hampton said.

Mesa County Sheriff’s Department deputies responded and patrolled the area until the children boarded their bus to school.

“We will keep checking the area,” Hampton said.

Last Orchard Mesa sighting?

Seeing a mountain lion on Orchard Mesa “is undoubtedly a rare occurrence, but a lion on Orchard Mesa is probably not a rare occurrence,” Hampton said. He estimated it was about four years ago a mountain lion attacked goats in the east end of the Grand Valley. A few days later, a mountain lion was hit by a passing train, and the attacks on livestock stopped, he said.

Frequency of sightings

“We don’t track exact numbers on those kinds of things,” Hampton said. “We get maybe a dozen calls a year.”

What do you call them?

The mountain lion is called by more names than any other Colorado mammal — cougar, puma, panther, catamount or just plain lion — according to the Colorado DOW Web site. Colorado’s largest cat, adult mountain lions are more than six feet long, with a graceful, black-tipped tail 32 inches long. They weigh 130 pounds or more. Color is reddish to buffy, paler below.

State population

The DOW estimates there are 4,000 to 8,000 pumas in the state.

Rancher compensation

The DOW compensates ranchers for livestock killed by mountain lions. In order for the DOW to pay out any money, “We have to be able to prove and verify (that it was a cougar attack),” Hampton said.

Payouts have averaged $33,000 a year for the last six years. For fiscal year 2007-08, the DOW paid $39,677 on 51 claims. The previous year, it paid $33,494 on 29 claims.

Hunting cougars

“Typically mountain lion hunting involves the use of hounds. Otherwise, you could walk all day, and the mountain lion would stay right ahead of you,” Hampton said. “It is very rare for people to come across mountain lions even when they are trying to.”

Hunters must pass a mountain lion hunting test, complete hunter education, and hunt in season, Nov. 16 to March 31. A resident license costs $40; a nonresident license $250. Hunters are allowed only one lion.

Encountering a lion

The DOW says: “Stay calm if you come upon a mountain lion. Talk calmly yet firmly to it. Move slowly. Stop or back away slowly. Do not run. Raise you arms to appear larger. If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches, or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back.”

Fatal attacks on humans in Colorado:

“In the last 40 years we have had two or three fatalities,” Hampton said.

• In 1991 an 18-year-old Clear Creek County High School student in Idaho Springs was attacked and killed while jogging.
• In 1997 a 10-year-old Lakewood boy was attacked and killed in Rocky Mountain National Park
• In 1999 a boy who disappeared while on a hike with his family is suspected “but not confirmed” to have been killed by a mountain lion. In 2003 some of his clothes were found, Hampton said.

Their normal diet

Lions usually feast upon deer, elk, small mammals and occasionally pets and livestock. An adult lion needs 8 to 10 pounds of meat per day, according to the Abundant Wildlife Society of North America


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