Officers kill cat: Slain mountain lion suspected in attack on 7-year-old boy

Boulder Daily Camera

By Eric Schmidt

The mountain lion suspected of attacking a 7-year-old boy Saturday on Flagstaff Mountain was shot to death by wildlife officers early Sunday.

Searchers with tracking dogs treed the cat about midnight a half mile from the site of the attack, which happened about 6 p.m. Saturday near the trailhead for Artist Point, said Tyler Baskfield, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The cat, an 80-pound female believed to be between 1 and 2 years old, was killed in the interest of public safety, he said.

“Mountain lions are very elusive,” Baskfield said. “They don’t like seeing people any more than people like seeing mountain lions. This is a very rare incident that a mountain lion would actually attack someone.”

The boy sustained bites and scrapes to his head and legs, and his family probably saved his life by fighting off the lion with rocks and sticks, Baskfield said. A necropsy is planned to check the animal for disease or other insights into why it attacked.

“The family did everything correctly in this situation,” Baskfield said. “It was nothing that they did.”

Wildlife officials are confident the cat is the same one involved in the attack, in part because mountain lions tend to remain in the same area when hunting and return to their kill, Baskfield said. The cat does not appear to be the same one spotted in a University Hill backyard in March, adding that full-grown mountain lions can weigh up to 175 pounds.

The boy who was attacked remained at The Children’s Hospital in Denver on Sunday but is expected to recover, Baskfield said.

A hospital spokeswoman said she could not release the boy’s name or condition because of privacy requests from the family.

The boy’s brother, a University of Colorado student, said the family was still in shock and declined to comment further.

There have been only 17 credible fatalities from mountain-lion attacks in the United States since 1890, including two in Colorado, said Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of carnivore protection programs for the wildlife group Sinapu. She said Saturday’s attack fits with statistics that show lions that do attack are usually younger, inexperienced hunters and their victims are children younger than 16 mistaken for prey.

“Attacks on humans occur only rarely, and only because there is something likely wrong with the individual animal,” she said. “If there’s been a human attack, the animal is generally either in poor physical condition or a young animal with poor hunting skills that is desperate for food.”

David Baron, author of the book “The Beast in the Garden” — which recounts how a mountain lion killed a jogger in Idaho Springs in 1991 — said the surprising thing to him is the Saturday attack in Boulder did not happen sooner. He said the risk of mountain-lion encounters in Boulder is among the highest in the country because an abundance of “artificial wilderness” — protected, irrigated land rich in deer and other prey — draws the cats toward a city of 100,000 people.

Baron said there’s no reason to panic, but the attack shows the need for better management of wildlife and humans alike in areas where both interact.

“We’re attracting the cougars in, and we have more and more people out on the trails where they’re more likely to encounter them,” Baron said.

Chris Anderson and Stephanie Hamilton, of Erie, hiked Sunday on Flagstaff Mountain near the trail to Sunrise Amphitheater. Anderson said his family would continue to enjoy the area, but he’s glad his 2-year-old daughter can still tag along in a backpack rather than venture out on her own.

“It definitely worries you,” he said. “But I don’t think the risk is any higher than the day before, or any other day.”

Julie Thompson, a middle-school science teacher from Boulder, said she often rides her bicycle on Flagstaff mountain. She said she approaches wildlife issues as both a scientist and recreation enthusiast.

“The human-wildlife conflict seems to get worse every year,” Thompson said. “When I hear of attacks, I try to think of ways to lessen our impact as humans and find ways for these creatures to survive.”

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