By CAITLIN WALKER | firstname.lastname@example.org
RBC | Although Rio Blanco County is in the heart of mountain lion territory, in-person sightings in populated areas are exceedingly rare, happening only once or twice a year at most. With more residents investing in affordable and reliable home security systems, however, the cat may be out of the proverbial bag.
Anita Bineau and husband James, new residents to Meeker, were awakened Saturday around 2:30 a.m. by a thump outside, “like something falling off the roof,” Bineau told the HT. Thinking it was a branch from a willow tree, they went back to sleep. The next morning, they checked their home security camera footage and found something quite unexpected – an adult mountain lion stalking something on the back deck of their home at Sixth and Cleveland.
Bineau posted the video to an area Facebook page, where it was shared multiple times, with many residents expressing surprise that the animal would come so far into town.
There have also been reports of sightings at 5th and Cedar streets as well as along 12th Street in the past few weeks.
CPW Area Wildlife Manager Bill deVergie can’t recall the last time there was a documented lion sighting in Meeker. “I wouldn’t say it’s rare but I would say it’s uncommon,” he said via telephone. Most likely, the lion was following food – deer moving through town, the flock of turkeys who waddle their way through the area regularly, or perhaps a small pet. “I can’t remember that we’ve had any attacks on pets recently or in the recent past,” deVergie said.
The animal could also have been seeking fresh water, especially with the Western slope in severe drought. Or, it could have been moving through it’s regular territory (lions routinely claim areas of 100 square miles or more) or just passing through.
Earlier this year, the Rangely Police Department reported a mother and two cubs spotted in the area of Ridge Road and advised caution.
One rumor is that lions who do end up in Meeker or Rangely limits are relocated from the Front Range and are already accustomed to humans, posing a greater threat. deVergie said that’s not the case at all. “I’ve never heard of anybody relocating a lion to this part of the area at all. Most of the time if we do any relocations, it’s gonna be way up into the mountains, no front range lions.”
The best thing to do if you spot a lion in town limits (or happen to catch one on camera) is to notify Colorado Parks and Wildlife or the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office on the next business day. You can also contact the Meeker Police Department or the Rangely Police Department. If, however, you spot the same lion multiple times in the same location or you see it exhibiting aggressive behavior or attacking a pet, you should of course notify authorities immediately.
You are a thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion, but if you ever do encounter a lion in person, do not turn and run. This may activate the animal’s prey instinct. Make noise so the animal knows where you are and make yourself look as large as possible – “make sure they know you’re pretty big and it’s going to be a formidable task,” deVergie said. This will likely scare the animal off. In fact, a 2017 completed in California showed that mountain lions would abandon their kills and run at just the sound of human voices. If the lion keeps coming toward you, however, back away slowly while maintaining eye contact, and be ready to fend them off if they attack. Don’t make it easy, “fight, be aggressive,” deVergie said. Try to get to protection: a car, your home, etc.
As with everything, the internet has a lot to say about ways to keep big cats off your property, however most of the ‘remedies’ presented online aren’t useful at all, according to experts. Some of the more interesting ideas we came across while researching this story included bringing an “ornery mule” with you everywhere, sprinkling mothballs or black pepper around your property line, and our personal favorite: growing “a really great mullet” to protect your neck in case an animal were to attack you from behind.
Mullets aside, the best defense is pretty simple. “Be logical,” deVergie said, “and take care of your pets. Most lions will not attack large dogs as often; they could be a formidable challenge. If you have small pets and small dogs make sure they come in at night.” If they do go out at night, keep an eye on them.
You can reach Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 970-878-6090, Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office at 970-878-9620, Meeker Police Department at 970-878-5555 or Rangely Police Department at 970-675-8466.