Wednesday, September 20, 2006

NM game official addresses cougar claims

By HENRY M. LOPEZ, The New Mexican
September 20, 2006

The New Mexico Game and Fish Department can't say for certain whether it was a mountain lion or bobcat that was responsible for killing pets in a Santa Fe neighborhood this month. But a representative told the city Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that he was "97 percent sure" the animal was "long gone."

However, late Tuesday night, Santa Fe County sheriff's deputies had cornered a mountain lion that killed a house cat near the intersection of N.M. 14 and N.M. 44.

Kerry Mower with the state Wildlife Management Division told the Public Safety Committee there had been no further sightings of the animal in the city in about two weeks.

"After those initial reports, we never did see it again," Mower said.

Early reports from residents of Escalante Street indicated the animal was a mountain lion, but Mower thought it was more likely a bobcat, a much smaller animal.

"Bobcats are common, but they don't represent a great threat," Mower said. It's not uncommon, he said, for people to report an animal sighting and mistake a dog for a coyote or wolf. Traps had been set to capture the animal, but those traps, which he said were better suited to trapping bears, came up empty. He was unsure whether the traps were still in place but figured the animal had left the area.

Mower said it wasn't inconceivable, just unlikely, that a mountain lion was responsible for killing an Escalante Street chicken and house cat this month.

"I am sure we have (mountain) lions that drift through the city, and people never know about it," he said.

Mountain lions -- sometimes called cougars or pumas -- are shy by nature and are made nervous by human activity, Mower said. They are more stealthy than bears, which are more commonly seen near developed areas of New Mexico.

He advised parents who think a mountain lion might roam near their home to keep an eye on their children. He suggested also that pet food should not be left outside since it might attract a mountain lion or other large cat. Even a bird feeder could attract a potentially dangerous animal to a home in search of the birds that gather to eat.

In the event a resident in confronted by a mountain lion, Mower said, the worst thing a person can do is turn and run away. Doing so could trigger an attack reflex in the animal. "They are usually more afraid of you than you are of them," Mower said.

Instead, he said, back away slowly without looking the animal directly in the eye, which animals might interpret as a threat and prompt an attack. He also suggested a person might scare the animal by raising their arms and appearing larger or by making noise.

Contact Henry M. Lopez at 995-3815 or hlopez@sfnewmexican.com.

http://www.freenewmexican.com/news/49498.html

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