Contemplating meeting with a mountain lion concerns me … I’m not lyin’ either

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled my Jeep onto Third Street in Meeker about 11:30 at night, and right in front of me was a good-sized deer, taking its sweet time crossing the road.
I’ve heard it’s not unusual to see deer in town, but for a guy from Kansas, it’s sort of a “Northern Exposure”-like experience to see wildlife strolling through the middle of town.
Seeing a deer in town is one thing; seeing a mountain lion would be a whole other matter.
But mountain lions have been making their presence known lately.
A dozen or more sheep used for the Meeker Classic were killed in a pasture just outside of town, less than a mile from the site of the recent sheepdog championship trials. A mountain lion was the suspected culprit. Maybe even more than one cat.
And the sheep were killed for sport, not for food, said Ellen Nieslanik, director of the Meeker Classic. She said some suspect it was a case of a mother mountain lion teaching its young how to hunt.
Then, last Thursday morning there was a mountain lion spotted near Pioneers Medical Center.
Mike Joos, Rio Blanco County undersheriff, said dispatch received a call about a mountain lion sighting around 5 a.m.
“We received a call from one of the nurses,” Joos said. “She had actually seen the lion about two hours earlier, but did not think much about it until another employee came in and was concerned because her children walk to school in the area.”
Joos said the mountain lion was seen in a trash dumpster on the east side of the hospital, then it walked north up the stairs along the east side of the Walbridge Wing long-term care facility, before crossing Hill Street, when the hospital employee lost sight of the animal.
“DOW (Department of Wildlife) officers were called and they tried to track it, but after the delay and the rain, they lost its track,” Joos said.
Joos said if someone spots a mountain lion, they should notify the Rio Blanco County 911 Communications Center.
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I live not far from Pioneers Medical Center. I walk to work every day, oftentimes early in the morning when it’s still dark. Hearing about the sighting of a mountain lion near the hospital made me think about what I would do if I came face-to-face with one of the big cats.
It also reminded me of a conversation I had recently with Randy Hampton, public information officer for the DOW’s northwest region. I talked to him after Alan Oldland sent in a photo of a mountain lion prowling on his property. Oldland lives about a mile west of Meeker.
Here’s Hampton’s advice on what to do — and not to do — if you encounter a mountain lion.
“The instinct is to turn and run, but that instinct in people triggers another instinct in the animal, and the cat will chase you,” Hampton said. “And you’re not that fast.”
Hampton said it’s best to back away from a mountain lion, slowly.
“First, stay calm,” he said (When he told me this, I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, right. That’s easier said than done.’). “Then move slowly, backing away, slowly.”
Another thing to do, Hampton said, is try to spook the animal.
“Look as large as you can,” he said. “Don’t be an easy meal. If you have a jacket, open it up, and hold it over your head. It makes you appear larger and more threatening.”
If that doesn’t scare off the animal, and the mountain lion approaches, then defend yourself.
“If you are attacked, fight back,” Hampton said. “That’s true with every animal in Colorado.”
All I could think was, I’m sure not in Kansas anymore.
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Speaking of mountain lions, the Meeker Chamber of Commerce will dedicate a bronze statue of a mountain lion at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26 at the corner of Fifth Street and Highway 13. The public is invited to attend the dedication ceremony.
The chamber commissioned local artist John Kobald to create the statue, which stands 9.5 feet tall. Kobald also painted the watercolor of a Ute dancer to commemorate the first-ever Smoking River Powwow.
Mountain lions are, obviously, common in this area. And, of course, Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president, was fond of hunting mountain lions here.
I don’t know about you, if I ever encounter a mountain lion, I hope it’s as harmless — and as stationary — as the one that will stand at the corner of Fifth Street and Highway 13.

Jeff Burkhead is the editor of the Rio Blanco Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theherald-times.com.