Lions in town

That a mountain lion killed a fawn in the city of Durango should be no surprise to anyone. Deer are mountain lions’ favorite food. Where the deer go, lions follow. And as longtime Durango residents can attest, there are more deer in town than ever.

In recent years a great deal of attention has been paid to human interactions with bears, mainly out of concern for the bears. Now, though, it might be time to think about the deer – and whether their increasing number poses an indirect threat to our pets, our kids and ourselves.

Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare. Attacks on pets, however, are more common. In February, CBS News reported a lion killed as many as eight dogs in Coal Creek Canyon near Golden. Wildlife officials posited the cat was targeting pets.

That lion seems to have lost any fear of humans, presumably from being around them. As one dog owner said, “This is a cat that’s walking right up to a house and taking dogs out of the yard.”

And while actual attacks on people are rare, they are not unheard of nor as uncommon as attacks on humans by bears. Humans have been attacked, and some killed, in several parts of California, in Montana, Arizona, Washington, Colorado and elsewhere.

In the 1990s, an 18-year-old jogger was killed by a lion near Idaho Springs, a 10-year-old hiking with family was killed in Rocky Mountain National Park and a 4-year-old French child was attacked at Mesa Verde. He survived.

More recently, a lion grabbed a 7-year-old Boulder County boy by the head. And a La Plata County woman suffered scratches and puncture wounds when a lion attacked her while she and her husband were sitting on their deck.

Many human encounters with mountain lions involve children. Like all predators lions are opportunistic, and a child can be the size of a fawn.

Once more, lions rarely attack humans. For perspective, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 800,000 Americans are treated yearly for dog bites. But when a lion attack does happen, the consequences can be far worse than a trash can or a grill knocked over.

The answer is to limit lions’ natural food source by making homes less attractive to deer. That can include reducing vegetation near the house and landscaping with plants deer find unpalatable.

Above all, though, it means not deliberately accommodating them. As a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife told the Herald, “Don’t feed deer. It’s the worst thing you can do – attracting deer to your house.”

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