Some animals hibernate in winter. Others migrate to warmer places. Mountain lions, also known as pumas or cougars, stick around all year long and are as active as ever.
Indian Creek resident Larry Morton was alone on Jan. 2 when he saw a mountain lion walking along an irrigation canal.
“It was beautiful to see it,” Morton said. “I have neighbors who have lived in Indian Creek for 20 years and never seen one.”
Numerous mountain lion sightings in recent weeks have led wildlife officials to warn valley residents about the dangers they could pose.
Mountain lions can reach well over 100 pounds and take down prey more than five times their size. In recent years, mountain lions have killed numerous domesticated animals in the Wood River Valley, including llamas.
“They tend to move under cover of darkness and are more afraid of us than we are of them,” said Idaho Department of Fish and Game Regional Conservation Officer Josh Royse.
Royse said officers have responded to numerous calls about mountain lions in recent weeks, from the town of Triumph to the Deer Creek neighborhood. He said cougars typically feed on mule deer, but that when times are tough they will seek easier prey.
“Most of the mule deer wintering range is down around the towns,” he said. “Yearling cats that have been pushed away by their mothers now have to fend for themselves. If they get desperate for a meal, they could eat cat or dog food that has been left out, or the cat or dog. So we are asking people to keep their animals and their food inside at night.”
Royse said a Triumph resident found that a mountain lion was using his barn for shelter. The cat killed a dog on the day before Christmas in the area. Royse said the barn was later sealed up.
“The cat has not been seen since,” he said.
Fish and Game officials responded last week to a sighting in Deer Creek of several cats together, which Royse said is unusual. In order to address the concern over possible damage to livestock, Royse called in licensed mountain lion hunters.
“We are in the middle of mountain lion season,” he said. “If lawful hunting can be used to solve the problem, that will be our first option.”
Royse said Fish and Game officials also set traps for mountain lions, but that they rarely work.
Hailey Police have received reports of mountain lion sightings in Indian Creek and north Hailey in and around Old Cutters subdivision within the last two weeks.
“They are usually down in the river bottoms, such as in the Lions Park area, but there have been no sightings reported there,” said Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter.
Though rare, numerous cases exist of confirmed mountain lion attacks on humans, some of them fatal.
“If you come across one, try to make yourself look bigger than you are,” Royse said. “Hold your hands above your head and back away. Try not to look like prey, or a predator, and don’t back them into a corner.”