Lions

A pair of cougar kittens at White Oak Conservation center in Florida. (Photo courtesy of White Oak Conservation)

It seems impossible to imagine, yet apparently there it was: a mountain lion, on the front porch of a home, one night recently in Ridgway.

The driver who spied the cat flashed his headlights at it — but the animal didn’t budge.

It was not only mountain lion recently sighted near town: Another cougar (or maybe the same one) was reportedly spotted by a guest from atop the Sky Bar, on the roof of the Chipeta Solar Springs Resort. 

Neither of these sightings had been reported to Colorado Parks & Wildlife District Manager Kelly Crane — but she was not surprised to learn about them. “It’s not uncommon at all to have lions on the outskirts of town,” Crane said. “These could have been young cats that had just been kicked out by their mom.” 

Young cougars typically remain with their mothers for 15 months or more, Crane explained (she added, “these two sightings could very well be the same animal”). 

Eventually, the young must leave, which is when the really hard work begins for them. These large, tawny carnivores — the biggest cat species native to the Americas — require their own territory. 

“An adult male can have a fairly large territory of up to 100 square miles,” Crane noted, which requires a young cougar to range far and wide in order to establish one. There is not a lot of landscape to spare, and not a lot of time to waste, not when you consider how many cougars are out there trolling for territories — “The Uncompahgre Plateau has one of the healthiest populations of cougars in the state,” Crane said — and how much room they need in order to thrive.

Mountain lions are considered an “umbrella species,” according to the National Wildlife Federation, “because their preservation depends on the preservation of large amounts of habitat. A lion usually requires 13 times as much territory as a black bear or 40 times as much as a bobcat.” Though cougar populations in the western are considered stable, their numbers have significantly decreased, the NWS says, “due to unsustainable hunting, habitat destruction and conflicts with livestock.”

Cougars tend to follow “their prey base,” as Crane put it. “When mule deer migrate up into the hills during summer, the lions will follow.” When the deer descend to lower elevations for the winter, the cats will be right behind them. The catch, Crane added, is that “you can find mule deer pretty much all times of the year in Ouray and Ridgway, and probably Telluride.” 

And thus, there is a risk of seeing mountain lions pretty much any time of year, as well.” 

Despite the fact that lions are most active between dusk and dawn, there’s also a chance of seeing them any time of day. “Pretty much all of Ouray County is considered their territory,” Crane said. “People assume if you see a mountain lion in the middle of the day that it’s been injured; that’s not necessarily true. Every lion I’ve seen has been somewhere between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.” 

If you see a lion, Crane said, “Keep your distance. If it’s on your property — Log Hill is the best habitat we have around here — remain standing upright, slowly back away, and go inside. If it doesn’t go away, give us a call. Observe your kids carefully outside, in both lion and black bear habitat, particularly during low-light hours. There’s definitely a difference between an animal that is passing through town and one showing an interest in people and pets. If a lion appears to be stalking people, or hanging around, that’s something we definitely need to be made aware of immediately.”

 

For more information on coexisting safely with mountain lions, visit CPW’s information page at tinyurl.com/22cn9cwj, where you can also download a link to the brochure Living with Lions, to share with family and friends.