Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kevin Woster: "City and lions a fatal mix"

Kevin Woster Journal staff | Posted: Monday, November 23, 2009 8:00 am

Dave Vaughn was surprised early Thursday morning when he hit the brakes and saw the mountain lion.

But not all that surprised.

"That was the 21st lion I've seen in the last eight years," Vaughn, a 40-year-old heavy equipment mechanic in Rapid City said Friday. "I've seen them all over, but the majority were crossing the road."

Vaughn is a hunter, angler, hiker and photographer. So he's out and about in the Black Hills a lot, including near dawn and dusk when wildlife species tend to be most active. He also lives up near Pactola Reservoir and drives to and from work in Rapid City every day. Highways 385 and 44 are prime-time routes to catch a glimpse of a lion - or more than a glimpse - early and late in the day.

Take Thursday, when Vaughn was cruising Jackson Boulevard near State Street at about 6:20 a.m. and had to take evasive action at the wheel.

"When I saw it, it was kind of trotting, and coming off the curb," Vaughn said. "At first I knew it was an animal, and I kind of swerved and stepped on the brakes and said, ‘It's a lion.'"

Vaughn turned around and followed the lion as it moved without any signs of concern north on State Street to the Janet Street. Vaughn had called 9-1-1 and was talking to the dispatcher and describing the lion's location, as it entered a yard on the 2300 block of Janet Street. He lost sight of the lion as it went beyond the house, but continued to cruise the neighborhood as he waited for authorities to respond.

Meanwhile, life around him went on.

"I saw a number of walkers, joggers, people on bikes and also a young man delivering the Journal," Vaughn said.

Knowing there was a big cat about, he was worried. He cruised the neighborhood, waiting for the police to arrive and watching for the lion. He never saw it, however, and had to head for work at 7.

"At one point I was tempted to go knock and say there's a lion out there, since I didn't know if they had kids or pets or whatever," Vaughn said. "My main concern was for the safety of the people living in that area."

That concern is the basis for the state Game, Fish & Parks Department's policy on lions in the city. It's a lethal policy, aimed at erring on the side of public safety. Not everybody likes it. Some hate it. But GF&P wildlife manager John Kanta thinks most support it.

"My opinion is that the majority of people living in the Black Hills would like to see us respond to those calls of lions in town and remove those animals," he said.

And make no mistake about what "remove" means.

"When we talk about removing a lion in town, we're talking about killing it," GF&P regional supervisor Mike Kintigh said. "And we do that as humanely as possible."

After a homeowner reported the lion in a tree in her yard Thursday, GF&P officers sedated it and took it to the regional office. There, a veterinary came and euthanized it.

Kintigh said there's no evidence that the lion had taken up residence in the Storybook Island area. More likely, it was passing through on the Skyline Drive-M Hill corridor and "made a wrong turn," Kanta said.

"This lion wasn't in town looking to eat people or pets," he said. "But when a lion comes into a heavily populated area like this one, there is the potential for something to happen. We believe that cat must be removed."

Forever.

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/news/article_3f2da03a-d62a-11de-92d5-001cc4c002e0.html

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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org

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