Mountain lion attacks and kills pet dog near Sunlight ski area; cougar also spotted in Carbondale

By Real Aspen
Real AspenSeptember 23, 2011
A mountain lion in action.

A mountain lion attacked and killed a pet dog at a ski area near Glenwood Springs, prompting Colorado Parks and Wildlife to remind all residents in the state to take precautions in areas where conflicts with wildlife are possible.

A resident living near the Sunlight Ski Resort told a wildlife officer that an attack happened when she let her dogs walk outside at approximately 10 p.m., Wednesday. She ran out to her deck after hearing distressed barking, and watched as a mountain lion ran off with her 14-year-old poodle/shih tzu mix in its mouth.

"As troubling as the incident may seem, residents in this area need to remember that they live in mountain lion country and this can happen anytime," said Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will. "Lions are opportunistic predators, so we caution people to keep a close eye on their dogs, cats or other domesticated animals."

Wildlife managers take human safety or loss of livestock into consideration when deciding whether to relocate or lethally manage a predator. However, they do not typically kill a lion that preys on an unsupervised pet.

"It does not appear to be a threat to people right now, but we will continue to monitor the situation, and we will take action if it becomes aggressive towards humans," said Will.

Although mountain lions are typically reclusive and avoid humans, people occasionally encounter the big cats in areas where there is an abundance of their natural prey, such as mule deer, or other smaller species such as raccoons, skunks, porcupines and other similar wildlife.

Wildlife officers also received a report of another mountain lion inside the city limits of nearby Carbondale on Thursday, the day after the attack on the dog.

Sightings of mountain lions within Carbondale city limits may be uncommon, said District Wildlife Manager John Groves, but they are not completely unexpected. Groves said it appeared the lion was no longer within city limits and had likely moved on.

"People should remember that we are in an area where lions exist in significant numbers, and a sighting can happen anytime," he said. "However, we do ask the public to let us know quickly if they see a lion in an area where they are not normally seen."

As mountain lion populations have rebounded in recent decades, the number of sightings and close encounters in Colorado has increased. Fatalities, such as the death of an Idaho Springs jogger in 1991, and attacks, remain exceedingly rare.

"Mountain lions are opportunistic predators and are certainly powerful enough to kill a human, but they typically choose their natural, four-legged prey, and tend to avoid anything on two legs," said Watchable Wildlife Coordinator Trina Romero.

However, Romero warned that people should not ignore a possible threat from a lion, and should follow a few basic tips to help reduce the possibility of an encounter, or attack.

"Try to avoid walking your pet at night," she said. "Lions have excellent eyesight and can see you clearly in the dark, but a human needs light to see, and walking during daylight hours allows you to see a potential threat."

Romero also advised people to fight back strenuously if attacked.

"A lion will retreat if you are able to injure or hurt it during an attack, so don't run from it, but do fight back if attacked," she said.

Wildlife managers also recommend the following tips:

- When you walk or hike in mountain lion country, go in groups and make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. A sturdy walking stick is a good idea; it can be used to ward off a lion. Make sure children are close to you and within your sight at all times. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.

- Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

- Stay calm when you come upon a lion. Talk calmly yet firmly to it. Move slowly.

- Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a lion's instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.

- Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you're wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won't panic and run.

- If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or any item you can quickly grab without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion.

As the human population of the state tops five million, there will likely be an increase in encounters, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.


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