Living with lions

Where there’s prey, predator will follow

December 14, 2006

| Herald Staff Writer The Rev. Stan Formby, pastor at Victorious Life Fellowship, is used to seeing wildlife around his home in the Rancho Mira Sol subdivision northeast of Durango. So a close encounter with a mountain lion in his driveway doesn’t strike him as odd.

As Formby left his house around 11 a.m. one day in late October, an adult mountain lion was practically blocking his passage. Formby’s dog, a 9-year-old German shepherd/Walker hound mix named Duke, leaped from the bed of the pickup and chased the cat up a tree.

“When I got back from picking up my wife an hour and a half later, Duke still had the cat in the tree,” Formby said. “It was less than 10 feet off the ground.”

Patt Dorsey, the Colorado Division of Wildlife area manager in Durango, said Formby’s most recent run-in with a mountain lion is a good reminder of the order of nature in La Plata County.

“It’s a given that a lion will follow its food source,” Dorsey said. “Deer are the mountain lion’s main prey.”

Formby, who took pictures of the mountain lion before calling Duke off, said the cat – or another one – is getting bold. A neighbor who lives about one-half mile away has seen a mountain lion on the deck of his house.

Duke has treed mountain lions and bears on other occasions, Formby said. After the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire, the dog treed five bears that strayed from their traditional feeding grounds. Elk and deer, too, frequently visit his neighborhood.

The same geographical setting exists above the junction of Delwood Avenue and Columbine Drive west of the Animas River, where residents recently found a deer carcass partially covered with leaves. A DOW wildlife manager said it apparently was a mountain lion kill.

The Columbine/Delwood junction marks the city limits, with only open space above it. The brushy slopes are a natural hangout for deer and, by extension, for mountain lions, Dorsey said.

Dorsey offered some observations and tips for living in mountain lion country:

• Clear shrubs and brush back from a house.

• Take household pets in at night or put them in a covered cage outside.

• Don’t count on a dog to scare away a mountain lion. An aggressive dog can tree a mountain lion, but the cats have killed dogs.

• Mountains lions don’t run from people. Like a house cat they may sidle away, but they don’t bolt.

• If confronted with a mountain lion, don’t run. The lion may not be hungry, but a fleeing figure may trigger the cat’s predatory response. It’s like dragging a ball of string before a house cat.

The public’s awareness of mountain lions has increased many times since 1991 when a mountain lion killed a young jogger near Boulder, said Dorsey, who was assigned to the area within months of the attack.

“We found that most adults at the time didn’t know that mountain lions even lived in Colorado,” Dorsey said. “Now, ask second-graders what to do if a lion is encountered and they’ll say, ‘Make yourself look bigger (by raising arms over the head).'”

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