EVERGREEN, Colo. – Carrie Ann and Shaffer Warner have repeatedly called authorities about the stalker that peers into their 6-year-old son’s bedroom window at night, has killed the family cat and even chased them into their home in the wooded hills west of Denver.
The culprit is a tannish-brown mountain lion that has eluded wildlife officers perched on the porch with shotguns, traps baited with roadkill and even a motion-detection camera fastened to a pine tree.
The family keeps the blinds drawn and has built a steel enclosure around the back porch. Two months ago, Schylure told his parents the lion stared into his room ”like it was mad at me.”
”We’re living in this vale of fear,” said Carrie Ann Warner, watching Schylure fidget near the side of the house. ”I’ve reached my wit’s end. I don’t know what to do.”
The clash between the family and one of the West’s most infamous predators is not the only one in Colorado this year, not by far.
Reports of mountain lions roaming neighborhoods and devouring family pets are cropping up from suburban Denver to Fort Collins, one of the most heavily populated stretches in the Rockies. In April, a lion attacked and broke the jaw of a 7-year-old boy on a trail in Boulder before it was chased off.
Wildlife officers are scrambling to educate people about how to get along with the big cats as development pushes farther into the canyons and pine-studded hills the animals once had to themselves. They say mountain lion fatalities are rare – only 17 nationwide since 1890 – and insist, for the most part, that the animals are naturally wary of people.
Still, the number of human-lion encounters – when an unprovoked cat makes contact with a person – started picking up nationwide starting in the 1970s, rising from about two each year to between six and 10, said Paul Beier, a conservation biology professor at Northern Arizona University.
The number of fatal lion attacks in that span has increased from about one to three or four a decade, he said.
”They’re still extremely rare events,” Beier said.
The numbers really look small, Beier added, considering that the West, where most of the cats are, is the fastest-growing part of the country. Hunting, development and other activities wiped out mountain lions in most of the East and Midwest, though most experts agree they are gradually moving east, prompting North Dakota and South Dakota to start hunting seasons.
A recent book suggests lions are becoming more threatening because they’re starting to see people as prey. Published in 2003, The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature by David Baron is set in Boulder, where mountain parks and open space abut the city limits.
As mountain lions follow deer into gardens and yards, Baron says, they may be learning to look at family pets and people as potential food.
Ken Logan, a mountain lion biologist, said Baron’s book does a good job exploring how people affect the environment and wildlife. But he said science doesn’t support the premise that lions are starting to view humans as dinner.
”If pumas were relying on humans for prey, people would be getting killed by pumas weekly, if not daily,” said Logan, who is in the second year of a 10-year study for the state Division of Wildlife on mountain lions in western Colorado.
By Judith Kohler, The Associated Press (7/13/06)