Lion killed after climbing into tree on city golf course
Joanna Dodder Nellans
PRESCOTT – Donna Michael didn’t need any coffee to wake up Wednesday morning.
When she opened the kitchen blinds at about 6:15 a.m. after getting up for the day, a mountain lion was looking back at her through the window a few feet away.
“I just pulled it part way up and saw this face in the window staring at me,” said Michael, who lives on Resort Way South between the City of Prescott‘s Antelope Hills Golf Course and the city airport.
Then the lion turned and went back under the bush by the window, she said, possibly to sleep since it was a nocturnal animal.
While some people might jump out of their slippers, Michael said she had a different reaction.
“I just looked at that thing and thought, ‘How gorgeous,'” she related. “Just a beautiful, gentle, lovely face.”
At the same time, Michael was worried about what could happen shortly when neighbors started coming out to walk their dogs and golfers arrived to tee up.
At around 8:30 a.m., she called a Prescott animal control officer, who told her how to reach the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Wildlife Officer Virginia Gouldsbury arrived shortly.
“I was able to see the lion and could tell that it was a healthy male mountain lion that looked to be about two-and-a-half to three years old,” Gouldsbury said in a Game and Fish news release. “When the lion saw me approaching it took off running.”
Gouldsbury drove her truck in the direction of the lion’s path, but was unable to locate it and believed it had run into the wilds.
But the lion actually ran just down the hill, over a low brick wall, onto the 9th hole fairway of the golf course and up a tree near the wall.
A neighbor spotted the lion in the tree about 16 feet away while reading in her home next to an open patio door, related Eileen Sherrill, who lives on Clubhouse Drive.
Sherrill was walking her 16-pound West Highland white terrier in the immediate vicinity when others outside warned her about the lion.
It turned out the treed lion was in a tree just a few feet off her patio wall.
With the same fears as Michael about the potential for a lion confrontation with neighbors or golfers, Sherrill called animal control, then called Michael, who gave her Gouldsbury’s phone number from Gouldsbury’s card.
Gouldsbury returned and shot the lion with a tranquilizer dart, but it climbed higher in the tree. She and two other armed wildlife officers stood at the base of the tree to keep the lion from running toward golfers.
They called the Prescott Fire Department for help with a ladder truck to get a better angle on the lion before shooting another dart.
After the lion fell, they took it out of town and killed it.
Game and Fish written protocol directed the decision to put the animal down, said Bob Posey, regional Game and Fish supervisor.
The catamount was aware that people had seen it, yet it continued to linger in a high-use area for people, Posey noted.
“We can’t take any chances,” Posey said, noting how a woman died last month after a rare bear attack near Pinetop in June. “The liability of handling a dangerous animal and then turning it loose is just too extreme.”
The agency does not remove and relocate lions elsewhere, Posey said. Since they are so territorial, that lion is likely to be killed, he said.
The young male might have run up the tree because it was scared and in unfamiliar territory, Posey said. Young males sometimes are searching their own territory to establish.
Both Michael and Sherrill said they have seen bobcats, javelina and coyotes in their relatively isolated subdivision tucked between the golf course and airport on the north edge of the city, but never a lion.
“This one was a new one for me,” Sherrill said.
The Prescott region is prime lion habitat. To learn more about lions and preventing dangerous encounters, go online to azgfd.gov/urbanwildlife. To report a lion, call 800-352-0700.