Department of Wildlife: ‘Blast of winter-type weather’ likely led to uptick in mountain lion sightings | VailDaily.com

Department of Wildlife: ‘Blast of winter-type weather’ likely led to uptick in mountain lion sightings

This mountain lion was photographed on Squaw Creek Road in Edwards on Jan. 27, 2016. As mule deer, mountain lions' primary prey, descend into the valley, lion sightings become more common.

VAIL — In considering mountain lion danger, it's important to remember the old adage "predators follow their prey."

Those are the words of Colorado Department of Wildlife spokesperson Mike Porras, who said the recent sightings in our area probably are not out of the ordinary considering the weather.

In late February, we saw the coldest period of the winter thus far, with temperatures dropping into the single digits in Vail. National Weather Service data shows the coldest day of the winter occurring on Saturday, Feb. 24. On Wednesday, Feb. 28, the Eagle County Sheriff's Office reported mountain lion activity in Edwards and Eagle-Vail, sharing a video of a nearby mountain lion on social media.

"Don't forget to look up, as lions often climb trees," the sheriff's office warned.

If you have mule deer in your neighborhood, there’s a very good possibility that a lion is not far behind.”

— Mike Porras, Colorado Department of Wildlife

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A few days later, on Friday, March 2, residents reported seeing a lion in Eagle Ranch.

"It was a blast of winter-type weather, more so than we've had all season," Porras said of the conditions leading up to the sightings. "So what typically happens is when winter rolls in, mule deer — which is a lion's primary prey item — start to move down to lower elevations. Many times that brings them into residential areas, and when that happens, that's when you typically see the uptick in sightings."

'FEEDING A LION'S PREY'

Porras said keeping deer out of residential areas can go a long way in protecting against mountain lion danger. It can also help protect the mountain lions themselves.

In having to put down a lion, "many times these instances are precipitated by the behavior of people," Porras said. "Many people like to see wildlife, and they'll feed wildlife. Many times what they're feeding is a lion's prey item.

"If you have mule deer in your neighborhood, there's a very good possibility that a lion is not far behind," Porras added.

Red fox have also been prevalent in local areas where mountain lions have been reported. Fox, coyotes and raccoons can also be natural prey for lions, so keeping trash secured is recommended in deterring those animals from your area.

While a mountain lion attack on a human is rare in Colorado, there have been several incidents of mountain lions killing dogs in recent years in Eagle County from Vail to Eagle. The Department of Wildlife advises against feeding dogs outdoors.

FIRST COURSE IS TO RELOCATE

Colorado has a robust mountain lion population and also has a growing population of humans. When they start to overlap habitats, it leads to an increase in sightings and reports. But not all mountain lions that have been reported are considered dangerous, requiring lethal action. Many times, the behavior of the humans surrounding the lion will determine the next course of action after a sighting, Porras said.

"If a lion enters a neighborhood, and we are called immediately, the first step may be to relocate that lion," Porras said. "But if people let it continue its activities in that residential area, and it grows accustomed to being around people to the point where it becomes more and more aggressive in its search for pets or other small animals that live in and around that residential area, then certainly that does increase the possibility of that animal having to be put down. So, in any case, it's always better for people to call us right away."

Porras said the best thing a resident of Colorado can do to protect mountain lions is to familiarize themselves with a guide Department of Wildlife has published titled "When Mountain Lions Meet People."

Top recommendations include walking in groups in mountain lion country, carrying a walking stick, keeping children close, staying calm, walking away slowly, making yourself appear larger and throwing stones at the lion without crouching down or turning your back.

"What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion," it says.

Find the full guide at http://cpw.state.co.us/lions.

Have you seen a lion?

In the interest of human health and safety, people are advised to call the Colorado Department of Wildlife at 970-947-2920 immediately upon seeing a lion in a residential area.