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Mountain Lions and People

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Narrator: Like a secret whispered in the dark a stealthy predator haunts the ink black stillness. The only signs are the lonely tracks quickly erased by the shrill hiss of a desert wind. But this isn't some long lost remote wilderness of the imagination. It could easily be your own backyard.

The common theme of most of the cities of the west is their ever growing nature. Suburbs spring up almost overnight in areas that once were wild. Mountain lions inhabit home ranges near many cities of the west.

Mountain lion attacks and sightings are becoming common. Grownups, as well as children have been attacked and sometimes killed by mountain lions. Darryl and Debbie Smith live in the desert outside of Tucson. Debbie races barrel horses in rodeos. The horses, like Twister, may be worth up to $20,000.

Debbie Smith photoDebbie Smith: I was in bed, about 3:30 in the morning I heard a blood curdling scream, and I knew it was a horse's scream which I've never heard before, but obviously you could tell it was.

Narrator: The horses had been attacked by a mountain lion. Their legs were cut up and the horses traumatized.

Darryl Smith photoDarryl Smith: Twister was the first one that got hit. You can see kind of the lines coming down in here. He got him there and also bit him in the back of the hock. This is where the cats come in from, on the top peak over here where the long grass is. Coming through the valley, he's living up along the back side of this.

Narrator: Debbie and Darryl are afraid for their safety. They called the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Gerry Perry investigated the incident.

Gerry Perry photoGerry Perry (Region V Supervisor, Arizona Fish and Game Dept.): We're not going to go and remove a mountain lion every time one challenges someone's livestock. The ranchers in Arizona have to deal with that frequently, and the state laws are set up so that they can. We are a wildlife management agency and not a nuisance animal agency. In the absence of a clear human threat, we're not going to respond.

Narrator: Debbie Smith slept in her horse trailer with her pistol, in hopes of getting a shot at the mountain lion.

Debbie: Basically we took the horse trailer and we pulled it alongside of the arena and I laid up in the bed and I opened the windows and slept there all night and figured around three or four o'clock in the morning, if the cat was going to come in, I was going to hear some ruckus from the horses.

Narrator: Darryl is an accomplished archer.

Darryl: If this problem persists, I will eliminate the cat. I will take him out.

Narrator: Lion expert Paul Krausman believes there is still much to be learned about mountain lion populations, and especially urban mountain lion populations

Paul Krausman photoPaul Krausman (Professor, Wildlife and Fisheries Resources, Univ. of Arizona): How do they use these urban areas? Are they just moving through them, are they coming down from the fringes, coming into the area once, twice, three times, is that part of their normal habits? Or are they just coming in, exploring it, and then they're on their way? I would suggest that it's the latter, but until the research is done we just won't know.

Narrator: Some biologists track mountain lions with the aid of dogs. The lion is shot with a tranquilizer, which allows the biologist to place a radio collar. The cats can then be monitored by the tracking device.

Jim Perdue lives nearby. On a separate night the mountain lion struck his two day old colt. The colt was much like this one he also owns, only much smaller. The colt was mauled so badly that he was put down. Dorothy Bowler found the colt.

Dorothy Bowler photoDorothy Bowler: It was about 4:30 in the morning; it was very dark out. The mare, the mama was over here; she was very frantic, and I saw the colt laying right about here. I didn't know at that point if it had rolled under or not. Bending down to look at it, I saw an animal scurry underneath this pole over here. I saw about three fourths of the end of it and a long tail.

Paul Krausman: People need to realize that, hey, they're living in these types of situations, and they need to have a little bit of give and take.

Jim Perdue photoJim Perdue: The agencies were not helpful at all. I felt like they were just blowing me off whatsoever. What they told me was that it's not threatening human life, so there's nothing they can do about it.

Gerry Perry: We do not as a normal course release mountain lions back into their, into some other place. It's somewhat like moving a problem from one place to another, and we don't think that's good business.

Narrator: like so many questions regarding predators in the new West, there are few easy answers. Where do mountain lions belong in the new West? What should be done when conflicts arise? The answers will define much of the future of the American West.

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