20-01-08 mountain lion@.jpg

Idaho Fish and Game officials have stated that juvenile mountain lions, like this one, can be prone to becoming “problem” animals.

A 12-pound domestic cat is the latest fatality in a string of mountain lion attacks on pets in the Wood River Valley this winter, Fish and Game officials say.

The cat was found dead on Jan. 2 in Hailey’s Northridge subdivision near Buttercup Road.

Fish and Game spokesman Terry Thompson told the Express that the department received a call that day from a cat owner whose two cats were missing, and that the owner called again to report that only one had returned. Shortly after, officers received a call from a Hailey resident who’d found a dead house cat cached under a tree in her backyard.

“Upon investigation, our officers found a kill site at the home of the two domestic cats,” Thompson said Tuesday. “The location of the kill site and the subsequent location of the cached cat were approximately one-third of a mile apart and the pet owner did confirm that the cached cat was his.”

The cat attack was the first reported pet fatality since the start of the year, but five mountain lion attacks in December resulted in the deaths of three domestic dogs in or near Ketchum. On Dec. 14, a miniature Australian shepherd lost its eye to a mountain lion at the Meadowbrook condominiums in Ketchum, and a nearly 100-pound Pudelpointer was killed the following day at a Canyon Drive residence south of Ketchum. Two dogs were killed on Dec. 18 near the Ketchum dog park—one on Bald Mountain Road and one on Short Swing Lane—leading Fish and Game officers to shoot the suspected lion after a hound tracked it to an under-deck hiding spot. A nonfatal attack on a Labrador retriever north of Hailey on Dec. 21 closed out the month’s pet-lion conflicts.

To address the increased presence of mountain lions in the Wood River Valley and offer the public tips on how to stay safe, five Fish and Game officials gave a presentation Monday evening at Ketchum City Hall.

Regional Wildlife Manager Mike McDonald said lions have roamed the Wood River Valley forever, but two things are troubling: earlier-than-normal sightings in the season and more brazen displays of aggression.

“Mountain lions in the Wood River Valley are nothing new. What’s unusual is that these incidents started really early, as issues with lions typically start in mid-January and February,” he said. “Cats are also nocturnal by nature, so reports of lions out and about during the day are cause for concern.”

McDonald said the factors behind an uptick of mountain lion activity are not completely clear. An increase in deer and elk may be leading the lions into town, at which point the big cats learn that local residents’ pets can be easy prey, he said. Wolves may also be a factor.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention wolves—they are competitors, and they can displace lions,” McDonald said. “I wish I could nail it down better, but [the uptick] is probably a combination of many things.”

Regional Fish and Game Conservation Officer Josh Royse said in an interview that juveniles kicked out of their mothers’ territory are often ill-equipped to hunt and may become “problem” lions.

“While mostly ineffective hunters, these cats tend to get in trouble when they’re not able to make a living on their primary prey,” he said.

Thompson said the biggest thing to remember if you encounter a mountain lion is to make yourself as large as possible and resist the urge to run.

“These are ambush predators with a natural instinct to chase and catch,” he said. “If you have children with you, pick them up without bending over and keep your eye on the lion.”

Other suggestions for homeowners presented by the Fish and Game representatives included closing off any possible “daybed” spaces, like under-deck hideaways, and removing elk and deer attractants, such as salt blocks.

“Preventative action needs to be communitywide,” Thompson said. “All it takes is one homeowner to negate everyone else’s efforts.”

Any troublesome mountain lion encounters should be reported to the Magic Valley Regional Office at 208-324-4359 during business hours, and conservation officers can be reached after-hours at 800-632-5999. Anyone who believes they are in danger should call 911.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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