Southwest Colorado has seen a spike in mountain lion sightings this year, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
In CPW Area 15, there have been 110 sightings as of Wednesday, said John Livingston, public information officer in CPW’s southwest region. In 2020, there were 72.
“Mountain lions are rarely seen but are common throughout western Colorado,” CPW Senior Wildlife Biologist Jamin Grigg said in a news release. “They prey primarily on deer and elk and are likely to be present anywhere deer and elk are abundant. They are generally shy around humans but are also very curious, similar to house cats.”
Area 15 includes Montezuma and La Plata counties, as well as most of Dolores, San Juan and Archuleta counties and parts of Hinsdale and Mineral counties.
Seventy-eight sightings were reported in La Plata County, 13 in Montezuma County, 18 in Archuleta County and one in Dolores County.
La Plata County’s 78 reported sightings led all counties in the state, Livingston said. Boulder County, which lies in Area 2, which includes sizable parts of Larimer and Weld counties, was second with 67 sightings, the release said.
A sighting of a single lion in a populated area might result in multiple reports. A mountain lion spotted this summer near the Animas River in Durango neighborhoods resulted in multiple calls, Livingston said.
Five of the 110 sightings were considered “aggressive,” behavior that includes growling or backing hikers off a trail, Livingston said.
For example, a mountain lion might exhibit “bluff-charging” – when a mountain lion approaches a person, makes noise and motions with its paws. An attack would involve a physical encounter and include a bite or “slash.”
“If it’s got a recent kill or kittens nearby, sometimes it’ll show itself to a person and kind of try to steer them away from that area,” Livingston said.
Attacks haven’t increased, though. Since 1990, there have been 23 reports of mountain lion attacks on humans in the state, the release said.
In March 2020, there was a notable incident in Loveland when a mountain lion with rabies attacked a person and bit a sheriff. There haven’t been any recent attacks in Area 15, Livingston said.
“If a lion allows you to see it, it’s likely not acting in a predatory manner,” Grigg said in the release.
Although sightings were scattered throughout La Plata County, there were significant reports north of Durango, along U.S. Highway 550 toward Silverton, in Game Management Unit 75, Livingston said. Sightings also were clustered in Game Management Unit 74, west of Durango in the area approaching Mancos Hill.
The increase in sightings was attributed in part to an influx of people in Southwest Colorado and to technology.
In 2020, 13 reports came from doorbell or game cameras, Livingston said. And a phone linked to a camera can alert people to a passing mountain lion. Detailed reports from 2021 have not been completed.
Population estimates won’t be calculated until the end of the year, but the number of mountain lions has presumably climbed since last year, Livingston said. Statewide, Colorado has 3,000 to 7,000 mountain lions, CPW says.
The estimates have become more accurate over the past decade with GPS collaring on cats and kittens, he said.
“We do know that the population is doing well,” Livingston said.
CPW produced a video series this year to educate people about mountain lions and crossing paths with them.
To report an encounter or attack between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., call the regional office in Durango at (970) 247-0855. Outside those hours, CPW recommends calling Colorado State Patrol or a local sheriff’s office.