Yes, we’re seeing more lions |

Yes, we’re seeing more lions

Special to the Daily

EAGLE COUNTY — Most of us live in wildlife habitat, and that includes some big creatures. Some of the bigger creatures — mountain lions — have been more noticeable this year.

The Eagle County Alert text and email system has sent out several messages over the past few weeks about mountain lions around the valley, but mostly near trailheads in Vail.

For the most part, the lions haven’t shown aggressive behavior to humans or pets, but it does happen. A small dog in January was killed just outside its home on Forest Road in Vail. And a fisherman in the Deep Creek area was jumped by a lion during the summer of 2015.

Vail Police Sgt. Justin Dill said the lions in the Vail area seem to be younger animals. And, like predators everywhere, those animals are following their prey.

“We have a lot of red fox around, and lions hunt those,” Dill said.

Three or four kittens reported

Perry Will, the Glenwood Springs-based area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said there have been a number of lion sightings around the region. Wildlife officers recently euthanized a sick lion near Basalt, and two lions were spotted recently near Old Snowmass.

“But the Eagle Valley’s just been full of them,” Will said. “We’ve had reports of females with three or four kittens.”

Lion sightings have become more common in the higher-elevation areas of the valley — primarily in and around Vail and Red Cliff. But there have been plenty of sightings elsewhere, too.

“We had a report of a lion that killed a deer in a stairway in Edwards,” Will said. Wildlife officers also recently euthanized an obviously sick lion in Eagle.

Will said local wildlife officer Craig Wescoatt reported that in December and January alone, he fielded more mountain lion calls than in the previous 30 years.

‘A Booming Population’

While lion sightings may be more common thanks to increased use of outdoor security systems with cameras, “We do have a booming population,” Will said.

One way to handle that population is through hunting. Will said that Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the past year has received applications for licenses to hunt mountain lions in all the area’s hunting units. Those animals must be processed for human consumption.

Losing Fear of Humans

While the lion population is expanding, Will added that younger lions, like bears, may be losing their fear of humans.

Dill said Vail Police and Eagle County officials put out alerts about lion sightings mostly to raise awareness.

Mountain lions are more stealthy than bears and other big animals — moose can be dangerous, too — and Will said the precautions about living in lion country are similar to the standard advice about bears.

Keeping pets on a leash is important, he said. More important is for people who spot a lion to fight their own instinct to run.

“They’ll think you’re prey,” Will said.

Those who spot a mountain lion — which are usually spotted in early mornings and after sunset — should raise their arms to try to appear bigger. Will said yelling helps, too, so a lion knows that thing on the trail is something besides prey.

Reporting lion sightings is welcome, but don’t expect police or wildlife officers to do much unless one of the cats has done some kind of damage. If that happens, then Parks and Wildlife officers will respond.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, and @scottnmiller.

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