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Wildlife officer rescues mountain lions from Vallecito Reservoir spillway northeast of Durango

The yearlings were noticed Friday evening as dam tender prepared to release water
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer Ty Smith rescued two yearling mountain lions from the Vallecito Dam spillway Friday evening. The cats had gotten stuck in the spillway because of its tall concrete walls. (Courtesy of Mike Canterbury)

Pine River Irrigation District Dam Tender Mike Canterbury was standing atop the Vallecito Dam on Friday evening preparing to release water through a side spillway when he noticed something moving the concrete canal.

“I yelled at them and I saw them move, so I was like, ‘Oh man, I got coyotes in the spillway,” he said.

But it wasn’t coyotes.

It was “a couple of cute cats” – two yearling mountain lions – that had infiltrated the fenced infrastructure, made their way into the spillway and were trapped by its tall, concrete walls.

He called Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Wildlife Officer Ty Smith responded.

Smith, Canterbury and PRID Superintendent Ken Beck gathered some materials and set about trying to rescue the cats.

First, they set up boards for the cats to use as ramps and began to haze the animals in the hopes of directing them to an exit. But the lions ran right past the boards, Smith said.

It took a little more ingenuity to get the animals out.

“Darting them didn’t seem like a great option because they were pretty skinny (and) you want to hit a good muscle mass,” Smith said.

Instead, he rigged a sort of trapeze using rope and a piece of PVC pipe with which to herd the animals and began to dangle it down near the lions.

Two yearling mountain lions were stuck in the Vallecito spillway because of its tall concrete walls. (Courtesy of Mike Canterbury)

To his surprise, one lion grabbed hold of it.

“(I) pulled him up a little bit. And he kept hanging on and I pulled him up a little further and he kept hanging on and we just tried to pull him out,” Smith said.

The second lion was a bit more of challenge. She did not have as firm a grasp on the trapeze, and Smith was only able to get her up to a higher spillway.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer Ty Smith rescued two yearling mountain lions from the Vallecito Dam spillway Friday evening. (Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

Eventually, Smith got the lion interested in the rope and was able to capture it using a catch pole. Smith and Beck lifted the lion over the barrier and released it.

Had Canterbury not spotted the cats during his check of the spillway and released water, the lions almost certainly would have drowned, Smith said.

“I’m just so thankful that I spotted them,” Canterbury said. “That little area would have become a pretty turbulent swimming pool pretty quick.”

“It’s a good reminder of why you should call CPW when you see something – wildlife in peril or something going on,” CPW spokesman John Livingston said. “You never know what it’s going to look like when we show up to try to rescue something, but (we’re) certainly always happy when it ends on a positive note.”

rschafir@durangoherald.com



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