OURAY COUNTY – An agent with the federal Wildlife Services program shot and killed a mountain lion in a fenced-in area in the foothills south of Ridgway on the night of Friday, Aug. 31, after the lion killed an alpaca on the property.
Both killings occurred near the home of Damon and Diane Todd at 1 Lynx Road, not far
from the Potter Ranch, near the intersection of County Road 23 and County Road 3A.
The Todds, with their two school-aged daughters, relocated to Ouray County from Pennsylvania about a year ago. They moved into a home previously occupied by Damon’s mother that came with a pair of alpacas, named Kenny and Captain Morgan.
The alpacas lived in a fenced-in area on the property, tucked into a wooded hillside that Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife Southwest Region Public Information Officer Joe Lewandowski described as “prime lion habitat.”
As Diane Todd described it, her husband heard the dog barking in a strangely urgent way on the night before, and suspected something was wrong.
Friday morning, they found Kenny’s remains.
“It was just like a National Geographic picture,” Todd said, of the alpaca’s carcass. “There were birds pecking at his eyes, and his ribs and stomach were ripped open. We started sobbing.”
Todd called the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office, and was told to contact the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, where District Wildlife Manager Kelly Crane took the lead in handling the case, confirming it was a mountain lion kill.
When a mountain lion or bear preys on livestock, the CDPW works with Wildlife Services (a federal program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture tasked with protecting agricultural resources from damage or threats posed by wildlife) to euthanize the predator, with the landowner’s consent.
When Crane asked Todd if she would like the Department of Parks and Wildlife to “take care of the problem,” she consented.
A Wildlife Services agent was dispatched to the property Friday evening; equipped with night vision goggles and a hunting rifle, he staked out the area and waited for the lion to return to the site of the previous night’s kill, using Kenny’s carcass as bait. He didn’t have to wait long.
“We were all still awake, and it was not quite 10 p.m.,” Todd recalled. “I heard one gunshot, then he called me and said ‘Ma’am, I removed the animal. It’s done.’”
The lion, a sub-adult female – a young lion recently cut loose by its mother – had come down the hillside at night, a few feet away from the Todds’ house in search of prey, undeterred by passing cars and the sounds of family activity.
In eight years of keeping alpacas on the property, the Todds say the family has had no problems with mountain lions. But according to CDPW Area Wildlife Manager Renzo Del Piccolo, “It’s not rare” for so-called “depredating lions” to hit livestock in that area.
“It happens maybe once or twice a year,” he said.
While CDPW will relocate bears that habitually raid trash cans, Del Piccolo said that “by policy, we can’t trap and remove a lion” – or a bear, for that matter – that has killed livestock or has otherwise exhibited dangerous behavior, and must resort to euthanization.
Toward that end, Del Piccolo said that CDPW’s partnership with the federally managed Wildlife Services works well. “They are very good at their job, and we certainly appreciate what they are able to do,” he said.
Under game damage statutes set forth by the Colorado State Legislature, CDPW is liable for damage to livestock or crops under certain criteria, Del Piccolo said. “We will reimburse livestock owners for damage done by lions, bears and some big game ungulates as well.”
But property owners are expected to play an active role in protecting their crops and livestock, erecting fences, installing motion-sensitive outdoor lighting, and putting animals in a safe enclosure at night. Del Piccolo acknowledged, however, that “with a lion or a bear, you could have an eight-foot fence and it would not make a difference.”
Del Piccolo said that in the big picture, situations such as the one that occurred on the Todds’ property last week are fairly unusual. It is far more common for livestock operators to “put down” depredating lions on their own – without the aid of a Wildlife Services agent – as they are entitled to do under state law.
“We put down more bears than lions,” Del Piccolo said. “Bears will eat pretty darn much anything. Mountain lions are more selective, and generally stay out of livestock.”
Of the incident, Lewandowski said, “Attacks on people by lions are exceedingly rare; they like things on four legs that look like prey.” And, he added, “People who live in prime mountain lion habitat, with a pet animal, should really bring it inside at night into a completely enclosed pen.”
The Todds, meanwhile, say they are looking into installing motion-sensitive lighting and acquiring a new guard dog to protect their small alpaca herd, which includes two newly adopted animals, Radar O’Reilly and Rafiki.
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