As sightings increase, humans need to be aware
AS more people move to and recreate outdoors across Colorado, the more they cross paths with wildlife. Following that trend, there has been an increase in reports of mountain lion sightings.
Colorado, including the San Luis Valley, is prime mountain lion habitat. Rick Basagoitia, Area 17 Wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said calls regarding mountain lions around Alamosa and the San Luis Valley have increased this year.
“We live in the mountains with a lot of deer and elk,” Basagoitia said. “Wherever there is prey, lions take advantage of that, and lions will be there.”
Basagoitia said the presence of a wildlife refuge as well as a river corridor are resources mountain lions can easily use to get in and out of populated areas such as Alamosa.
But living with mountain lions isn’t new in the San Luis Valley.
“Mountain lions are rarely seen but are common throughout southwestern Colorado,” said CPW senior wildlife
biologist Jamin Grigg. “They are generally shy around humans but are also very curious, similar to house cats.”
Basagoitia said high-pitched screams from a red fox have been commonly mistaken for calls by mountain lions. The two have similar sounding screams, and many reported to CPW as mountain lions are later confirmed by CPW wildlife managers as coming from red foxes.
Technology has also contributed to more reported mountain lion sightings, with video doorbells picking up images that previously went unseen.
“People see them more now with the help of this technology,” Basagoitia said. “Bears and lions have always come into town, usually in the middle of the night and then they are gone by morning and nobody knows they are there. That’s not the case now because people have ways to see them at night that they didn’t have before.”
CPW handles each reported sighting on an individual basis, and every decision regarding what to do with a mountain lion is made after thoroughly assessing the entirety of each situation. While the preference is to not interfere with the natural actions of these animals, there are instances when public safety dictates CPW intervention.
While sightings are increasing, attacks are not. Mountain lion attacks are relatively
rare. There have been 23 known attacks of a mountain lion on a human in Colorado since 1990. Oftentimes, protective behavior by a mountain lion can be mistaken with predatory behavior.
Grigg said mountain lions are ambush predators, meaning they rely on stealth and secrecy when hunting.
“If a lion allows you to see it, it’s likely not acting in a predatory manner,” he said.
Human interactions with mountain lions will continue to rise as more people move into lion habitat and use hiking and running trails. It is always best practice to remain alert while recreating outdoors and to refrain from using headphones when hiking and running.
While there have been fewer than a dozen fatalities from mountain lion attacks across North America in the last century, CPW recommends a few tips for mountain lion encounters. One of the most important is to keep dogs on a leash. Many mountain lion encounters happen after a dog off leash discovers a lion’s cache of food or gets too close to kittens.
It can also be helpful and provide peace of mind to carry bear spray when traveling in the backcountry.
CPW estimates there are between 3,800 to 4,400 independent/mature mountain lions, not including dependent young, in Colorado.
For more information on living with mountain lions, see our brochure and share with neighbors and friends: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Education/LivingWithWildlife/LivingWithLions.pdf