Niwot’s wild side

Image courtesy CougarNetwork.net

Mountain lions are a cat of much larger stature, growing to up to 50 inches in length, not including their tails, and can weigh as much as 100 to 150 lbs.

Reports of big cat sightings in Niwot seem to be more prevalent these days. It might be because of the availability of sharing the news of sightings on Nextdoor Niwot and Facebook; or it’s possible that there’s an uptick in the population of mountain lions and bobcats in the area; or maybe big cats are getting used to living in close quarters with humans in the area and are not as fearful.

This past week, Brooke Moulton wrote on Nextdoor Niwot, “This morning around 5:45 a.m. my husband was on his morning run. He was across from the ball field on the south side of Niwot Road (at 83rd Street) and the local mountain lion ran up behind him. He said when he turn to see what was running toward him, he inadvertently startled the cat with his headlamp and the animal veered off into a backyard to the south. It was within 10 yards of catching up to him and, obviously, gave him quite a start.”

This post prompted over 20 replies, with two Niwot residents chiming in to say they had also seen mountain lions in the area, others inquiring if it was a bobcat rather than a mountain lion, and some responses with practical advice for future sightings.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager, Joe Padia said, “We have recently received reports of (big cat) sightings, but are unable to confirm them. We don’t doubt them though.”

Active times for mountain lions and bobcats are at night, from dusk until dawn. Padia mentioned, as much as he’s been out in the wild for the past 14 years, he’s come across two live mountain lions (one, an adult and the other a cub)..

Once referred to as game wardens, wildlife managers are responsible for helping to protect wildlife and for enforcing wildlife laws.That often means working with hunters and fishermen to be sure they have proper licenses and are not over-hunting or fishing. They also educate the public and speak to students about Colorado’s wildlife. Additionally, wildlife managers are called on to assist with wildlife and human conflicts. Padia has never been called on to assist with a big cat-human interaction.

“Normally big cats are elusive and secretive, but they may be adapting to human behavior,” Padia said. “Mountain lions stalking and attacking people is so rare. But, there are always exceptions. I’d be more concerned about two-legged predators in general, and it’s just smart to be prepared for anything is our advice. Carry pepper spray or keys, keep dogs on a leash, accompany your pets outside, and turn on a light when it’s dark outside.”

How to identify the big cats

Key to recognizing bobcats is their short tails, which will be no more than five inches long. They grow to weigh about 35 lbs. and up to three feet in length, have tufted ears, orange tinged coats with black spots, and generally go after small animals such as rodents, rabbits and chickens.

Mountain lions are a cat of much larger stature, growing to up to 50 inches in length, not including their tails, and weighing as much as 100 to 150 lbs. They will take down a deer (of which there have been recent sightings in Niwot), but will also dine on smaller animals such as rabbits, cats, and dogs. They are considered the “top of the line predators,” Padia said.

Mountain lions’ tails are long and cylindrical in shape, up to 3 feet long, with dark tips. Their coloration tends to be tawny.

Tips:

Closely supervise children and pets when they are outside, especially at night.

Install motion detector lights in your yard.

Make a lot of noise if you are outside in the dark.

Travel in groups.

If you come across a big cat:

Try to appear as large as possible, raise your arms and pull your jacket open.

Pick up small children.

Speak firmly and move slowly.

Do not turn your back or run away. Back away while watching the cat.

Fight back vigorously if threatened or attacked. Throw rocks and sticks.

If you see a mountain lion or a bobcat, report the sighting to Colorado Wildlife and Parks Northeast Region at 303- 291-7227, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Outside of those hours, report encounters to Colorado State Patrol or the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department.