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MEEKER — Reports of mountain lion sightings can sometimes be exaggerated.
But not always. Just ask Alan Oldland.
A mountain lion was caught by a game camera strolling around Oldland’s property, one mile west of Meeker on Highway 13. The photo was taken Aug. 7.
“That’s a mountain lion,” confirmed Randy Hampton, public information officer for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Northwest Region. “That’s a good-sized animal, and it looks healthy.”
Or, as Oldland said, “It made me think I could be lunch. We may have to put on holsters and go around like we live in the ‘old’ Meeker. Makes me a little nervous.”
Oldland said he and his wife, Jane, saw a mountain lion before.
“Jane and I saw one on our place down by the White River a few years ago, but thought it had left the scene,” Oldland said. “It stood up about 20 feet away from us, turned and walked away.”
There have been a couple of much-publicized mountain lion encounters recently in Colorado, including one Aug. 4 in the foothills, south of Denver, where a mountain lion came through an open door in the middle of the night, entered the master bedroom, snatched the couple’s Labrador retriever off the bed, and dragged it outside and killed it.
Then, the next day, there was an incident outside of New Castle, northeast of Rifle. This time a mountain lion approached a couple walking in the evening along a country road.
“The mountain lion came out of the brush,” Hampton said. “The husband was carrying a gun, and was able to shoot the mountain lion and kill it. It was within six feet of them.”
An autopsy of the animal showed it “had some pretty significant health issues, which likely led to the incident,” Hampton said.
“The cats are incredibly elusive,” he said. “They really do try, for the most part, to avoid human contact. If they come around, they are looking for food.”
Reports of mountain lion sightings tend to go in spurts.
“We can go months and months without seeing anything,” Hampton said. “And then it will all of a sudden pick up.”
“There are a lot of mountain lions around,” Hampton said. “In northwest Colorado, there’s some of the best mountain lion habitat on the earth.”
But, again, mountain lions tend to avoid contact with people.
“They are very reclusive animals,” Hampton said. “If you encounter a lion, and the odds are slim, even living in these areas, don’t approach the animal.”
So, what should people do — or not do — if they come into contact with a mountain lion? One thing is for sure: don’t panic and run.
“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. The only people who are that fast are in China right now representing the United States (at the Olympics).”
Instead, Hampton said, it’s better to back away, very slowly.
“First, stay calm,” he said. “Then, move slowly, backing away, slowly.”
Spooking the mountain lion can scare it off as well.
“Look as large as you can,” Hampton 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.”
And, what if the mountain lion advances toward you?
“If you are attacked, fight back,” Hampton said. “That’s true with every animal in Colorado.”
Oftentimes, Hampton said, people mistakenly think they have spotted a mountain lion when, in reality, what they’ve seen turns out to be something else, like a bobcat or even a dog.
That sort of mistaken identity doesn’t happen very often in this area, Hampton said.
“In small towns (in northwest Colorado), where people are real familiar with the outdoors, we have had enough sightings from enough people who know what they are talking about.”
People like Alan Oldland.