Friday, March 02, 2007

Mountain lion encounters on the rise in Colorado county

Cat followed woman, dog on trail

February 28, 2007
By Shane Benjamin | Herald Staff Writer

Mountain lion sightings are becoming increasingly common in La Plata County, and for many residents, the experience of seeing a big cat in the wild is cause for fear.

"She was prepared, and she had good clothing and everything but was just not anticipating having eyes follow her all the way down the trail," Knowlton said.

The lion followed the woman and her dog for a couple of miles, said Capt. David Griggs with the La Plata County Sheriff's Office. "I suspect the lion was probably stalking the dog," he said.

While deputies were searching for the woman, they saw three mountain lion cubs, Griggs said.

While no residents have been seriously wounded by mountain lions in recent years, the cats have killed pets.

Carol Taylor, who lives next to public lands north of Bayfield, said her Labrador-pit bull mix was attacked about two weeks ago by a mountain lion. The dog, named Abby, needed three-dozen stitches and is on the mend.

"And she's tough, which makes the whole thing even crazier," Taylor said.

Knowlton, a lifelong resident of La Plata County, said mountain lions have just recently started visiting his property in the Animas Valley. One of Knowlton's barn cats was carried away in the jaws of a mountain lion, according to a neighbor. And other cats have gone missing, too, he said.

"With more people, there are more opportunities to cross paths, and I imagine that's what we're seeing," Knowlton said.

A few mountain lion sightings reported in the last year include:

• In February 2006, residents of the La Paloma subdivision in Grandview saw a mountain lion in trees and crossing driveways.

• In April, mountain lions were spotted along Florida Road.

• In June, west of Fort Lewis College.

• In August, just north of Gem Village.

Patt Dorsey, the Colorado Division of Wildlife area manager in Durango, said February is a common breeding time for the felines, so they wander around more than usual. Also, with nicer weather, residents venture into the wilderness more, thereby increasing the chances of a sighting.

Dorsey offers this advice to anyone who encounters a mountain lion:

• Don't run. Like a house cat that attacks a moving ball of yarn, mountain lions will attack what excites them and investigate the object of that excitement later. "Don't run, because you're going to excite that predatory response," Dorsey said.

• Carry a walking stick or put rocks in your pockets. These can be used for self-defense in the event of an attack.

• Hike in pairs.

• Don't let pets travel at large. Doing so puts them in danger.

• If you're on a bike, get off and walk. It is also good to put the bike between you and the lion or raise the bike over your head.

• Make yourself look big. This can be done by raising your arms or lifting a coat over your head. article_type=news&article_path=/news/07/news070228_1.htm

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