Durangoans living in the Junction Creek area have been abuzz recently with regular sightings of a large mountain lion, but wildlife officials have reminded residents: You live in Colorado.
“We live with mountain lions,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said. “And this is what a mountain lion is supposed to do.”
On Jan. 2, Durango resident Nettie Coleman-Loomis posted a picture of the Junction Creek mountain lion skirting the road into the woods on the Facebook page Durango Says What?
“It is eating a road kill deer,” she wrote.
In the days that followed, social media lit up with similar spottings.
On Jan. 5, resident Melissa Dahl said she saw the feline three times, past where County Road 204 splits off from County Road 205, feasting on the same deer carcass on the side of the road, for about a week straight.
“Junction creek kitty was out this morning,” she wrote. “Just a heads up to runners and bikers, might not want to be on our road for a while. Not scared of cars/trucks anymore either.”
Durangoan Shannon Friday Gulsby also caught the typically elusive creature peeking out behind brush.
“He/she was out yesterday afternoon also,” she posted, “Junction Creek by the road kill. He ran up behind the tree when I stopped to get a pic.”
Pete Neds, who lives on Junction Creek as well, said he spotted the feline near his garage, and feared it could pose a risk to residents and pets.
“When she is done with the deer carcass, she will kill again, and continue stalking this area until either the food supply runs out…(or) she is stopped,” Neds wrote. “All we can do now is keep a watchful eye. I hope it’s OK with Obama if we arm ourselves.”
And on Saturday, Robin Wiles said the mountain lion killed a deer 2 feet from her back door. She and the animal were in direct gaze through the window as it began to rip the hair off the deer before consuming it. Wiles said the Colorado Parks and Wildlife moved the carcass to farther behind her house.
“However, tracks reveal it returned to the spot of its kill the next day or night,” she said.
The mountain lion – also known as a cougar, puma and panther – is Colorado’s largest feline, which averages from 70 to 150 pounds in weight, and can reach up to 8 feet in length (including tail). Its main diet is about one deer a week. The animal remains a solitary creature, mostly active at night and rarely spotted by humans.
Matt Thorpe, area wildlife manager with Parks and Wildlife, said the department has received a lot of calls about the Junction Creek cougar, but because it hasn’t displayed any dangerous or unusual behavior, wildlife experts don’t plan to relocate it.
“It’s just unusual because mountain lions are very solitary creatures,” Thorpe said. “If it was a bear, nobody would think twice about it. Since it’s a lion, people are making a big deal about it.”
Mountain lion sightings are rare, and attacks on humans are even more so. The last time someone was killed by a mountain lion in Colorado was in 1997, when a female cougar mauled a Lakewood boy in Rocky Mountain National Park.
In La Plata County, the last incident was in 2005, when a woman watching the sunset from the deck of her Florida Mesa home was attacked from behind. The woman survived, and wildlife officials never caught the feline.
What’s more common are humans killing mountain lions. Just two weeks ago, wildlife officials in Steamboat Springs killed a lion hours after the animal attacked a family pet.
Thorpe said there haven’t been any mountain lion-related incidents this year, and the department hasn’t had to euthanize any troublesome felines. He said three mountain lions were legally killed by hunters in 2015.
To avoid any such incidents, Lewandowski said proper precautions should be taken.
“People should not approach it or try to get close to it,” he said. “And make sure their dogs don’t go down there and sniff around.”
Spottings of mountain lions in winter are more common, Lewandowski said, because the animal is more readily visible against a white background, exposed by the lack of foliage. In winter, mountain lions also are likely to follow their prey to lower elevations, where there just so happens to be higher concentrations of humans living, he added.
For some Durangoans, the novelty of sighting a mountain lion roaming the wildlands of Southwest Colorado has worn off, and become just another pleasure of living in a remote part of the country.
Louis Juan Valencia, one of the unimpressed, deadpanned on Durango Says What?: “Welcome to Colorado.”