Lion fatally shot on sight by neighbor
By Katherine Nettles
In an unfortunate incident for all involved, a mountain lion attack of a family pet occurred on Friday night, January 3 near Almont and resulted in a loss of life for the dog and the lion.
According to the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Department, the attack happened at approximately 9:30 p.m. on Ender Lane, near the intersection of County Road 742 and Highway 135. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) representative J Wenum later reviewed the report that a very thin young female lion attacked a 15-year-old black Labrador retriever mix. The dog was outside its home in a run with a suspended cable leash system.
“The owner heard a commotion, came out and threw rocks, but the lion had the dog by the head and wouldn’t let go. Meanwhile, a neighbor came out and shot the lion,” said Wenum.
The dog was taken to the veterinarian, but due to its injuries it had to be euthanized. Two Gunnison County sheriff’s deputies responded that night, and the next morning a CPW district wildlife manager came to retrieve the lion’s remains.
Gunnison County undersheriff Scott Jackson confirmed that when the deputies arrived, the mountain lion had already been shot and killed. It had left the premises and made it partway up a hill nearby before succumbing to its injury. In addition to the older Labrador that had to be euthanized, Jackson said the family did locate its four-month-old Labrador retriever that had also been outside and was missing. The puppy was uninjured. The family expressed to the deputies and CPW that they did not wish to speak to media about the incident.
CPW documents all lion and bear incidents, and Wenum said this sort of mountain lion attack on residential property is not very common.
“It isn’t all that frequent, but if you live in an area that has lion habitat—and pretty much everything west of I-25 has lion habitat—you up the odds of encounters. And any place that has winter range for big game, which includes the Almont area … you up the odds of encounters. In terms of pets being attacked, it’s not all that common. With it being a younger adult lion, in poor body condition, a pet is an easier target than their normal staple of mule deer,” he said.
CPW gathered the remains of the lion, and from there, Wenum said a field necropsy was performed, “which is basically an autopsy on wildlife, to see if there was any indication of something out of the ordinary.” If the remains are in salvageable condition, Wenum said the agency can donate the meat and retain the head and hide for educational purposes, for scientific purposes or public auctions. The necropsy reports showed that the lion was about three years old and aside from being very thin, “she had no other health issues or apparent injuries; for whatever reason she had just had a hard time successfully securing a meal,” said Wenum. This was likely the cause of her choosing a domesticated animal to target.
CPW is conducting mountain lion studies in several areas of the state, such as along the Front Range in the area between Boulder and Ft. Collins, in the northwest and in the Cañon City/Salida area. Wenum said CPW gets periodic reports of mountain lion activity within Gunnison County, and in winter they get more general observation reports that big game, including the big cats, have worked their way down the Gunnison basin.
“And that is also the location for roadways, so we get motorists who see them where big game herds are nearby,” he said.
“In general, Colorado has a healthy lion population,” said Wenum, with estimates somewhere in the 5,000 to 7,000 range overall across the state. CPW is working to update lion management plans. As a big game species, there is a hunting season for mountain lions with a limited harvest for each geographic area. Here in Gunnison County, the hunting season for mountain lions is November 18 to March 31. There is a mandatory check requirement so that CPW can gather some biological information from each cat before it is released to the hunter.
“This time of year, and really throughout the Gunnison basin on a year-round basis, the lions do follow large herds of mule deer and even some elk calves,” said Wenum. “We encourage folks to be aware of their surroundings. From a human standpoint, whether skiing, snowshoeing, or hiking, be aware and if you have pets with you, use a leash to keep them close. If you encounter a lion, try to scare it away. If you are with multiple people, get together and make yourselves appear to be a dominant force on the landscape. They tend to be alone, with a few exceptions being that a male and female will be together temporarily for breeding purposes, and cubs that have recently been cut loose may stick together until they become more proficient hunters.”
In residential settings, advised Wenum, there is a lot of winter range for deer and elk in the Almont area, and in the case of a younger lion they are going to look for an easier target. As far as the family and their neighbor’s efforts to fend off the lion, Wenum said they acted appropriately in every way.
“I would commend their efforts. If you were to hear a racket in the backyard and that type of situation is occurring… They did a really good job of trying to defend their pet, throwing rocks, trying to be assertive. And then the neighbor of course took defensive action,” he said.
Ultimately, while we can all be as careful as possible and stay aware of our surroundings, we do live among these large predators. “We live in a setting where there is wildlife around, and some animals make a living by eating others. We just have to be aware of that and accept that,” said Wenum.