After Denver7 published an article this week about a mountain lion that clawed a man sitting in a ground-level hot tub at a rental cabin near Nathrop, viewer Robyn reached out to The Follow Up asking for more reporting on “how humans and wildlife can co-exist.”
“Please report on the pressure our wild animals face to survive in a world dominated by people,” she wrote, and asked that we educate people on “using good judgment in our Colorado wild areas.”
So, Denver7 took Robyn’s questions to Sean Shepherd, an area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife based in Salida.
Man suffers minor injuries after mountain lion claws his head Saturday evening
He told us there is no blame, so to speak, to be put on either the people or the animal in the rental cabin incident. In fact, the people did a lot of things right when it comes to a mountain lion encounter.
Shepherd also described common tendencies of mountain lions, and what people in Colorado’s mountain areas should be aware of to avoid encounters with them.
The circumstances that led to the Nathrop incident, explained in greater detail
The rental cabin in question – located in close proximity to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs west of Nathrop, several miles south of Buena Vista – actually has a sort of in-ground hot spring on the property that feeds a step-in pool.
The people using the pool were at ground level, with steam coming off of the water. As Shepherd described it, they were out looking at the stars – not talking, playing music or doing anything else to attract a mountain lion.
He said the mountain lion used a staircase – the same ones humans would use – to approach the hot spring. In the dark, the mountain lion could’ve been mistaken for a dog, Shepherd said.
Who, or what, is at fault here?
We asked Shepherd if any blame rests with either the people or the animal in this case, or if it was two separate but parallel situations that happened to intersect.
It’s most like the latter, Shepherd said. The people weren’t doing anything irresponsible to attract a mountain lion, and the mountain lion didn’t leave its natural environment.
“I actually think that the people that were involved did a lot of things right,” Shepherd said. “They were splashing water [...] They were yelling at the cat. And they made themselves larger. They had their towels extended out from them. And they walked away from the hot spring, they didn't run. And they kept the cat lit up by flashlights as they were moving back into the residence.”
In the wild, be aware of your surroundings
The most important thing when it comes to preventing mountain lion encounters, Shepherd said, is to be aware of your surroundings.
Mountain lions are primarily keyed in on deer as their prey, Shepherd said. And, he said, the rental property in this story is a prime location for deer.
“[The house sits on] two to three acres, interspersed in ponderosa and juniper and pinyon,” he said. “It's a great deer habitat and we should expect to see a predator in that same type of landscape.”
Shepherd said in searching for potential mountain lion activity, CPW officers look for what’s called “cash” – evidence of recent mountain lion kills.
“They'll gorge themselves. And then typically, they'll drag that deer underneath a tree, or in some area that they can bury it under leaves and forest materials,” he said.
In the case outside Nathrop, however, CPW officers saw several deer on the property but didn’t find any fresh kills nearby.
‘We interact with more wildlife than we know’
Shepherd said his main advice for people spending time in Colorado’s high country is to understand that they’re constantly in close proximity to wildlife, which sometimes includes mountain lions.
“We probably interact more with wildlife than all of us know. We just aren't aware of it,” he said.
He said that’s evidenced by more and more people putting up trail cameras and game cameras at their mountain residences. Mountain lions, black bears and coyotes are often spotted near such homes, he said.
“A variety of different species that people aren't aware of are around their homes, day and night,” Shepherd said. “For me, this situation is just that there's more wildlife than we all know, interacting with humans on a day to day basis.”
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What do to if you spot a mountain lion
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a few tips on what to do if you come face to face with a mountain lion.
- Make lots of noise if you come into contact with one, especially at dusk or dawn.
- Install outdoor lighting. Light areas where you walk so you could see a lion if one is present.
- Closely supervise children whenever playing outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
- Keep your pets under control. Roaming pets are easy prey and can attract lions. Bring pets in at night. Do not leave pet food outside as it attracts smaller rodents and raccoons that are eaten by lions. Store garbage securely.
- Place livestock in enclosed sheds or barns at night. Close doors to all outbuildings since inquisitive lions may go inside for a look.