Mountain lion on the prowl?

Police urge residents to be alert after deer carcass discovered; dogs could have been responsible

The Cortez Police Department is warning city residents to be cautious and watchful after finding evidence of a possible mountain lion attack in the city limits.

An half-eaten deer carcass was found Thursday morning in the 200 block of south Harrison Street, and police suspected a mountain lion could be behind it. The kill happened overnight and was reported to police by a neighborhood resident.

Lari Ann Pope, CPD animal control officer, described the grisly scene.

"It had been mostly eviscerated. There was some consumption of the gut and organs, and chewing on the rib cage," she said. "It was not in good shape by any means."

Officials are torn about whether a mountain lion is truly responsible for the attack. While responding to the scene Thursday morning, Pope saw two dogs in a nearby yard with traces of blood on their fur. However, it was unknown if they had actually killed the deer or had merely scavenged the remains.

The dogs were contained when she found them, but Pope said they had a history of running loose. They were being watched at the time by their owner's brother, who surrendered them to be impounded.

The carcass was initially hauled away, but was later returned as bait for a trap, in case a mountain lion returned for more. Andy Brown of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, set the trap on Thursday afternoon.

"The best opportunity to catch the animal is the first night (after a kill). The likelihood of getting it drops considerably after that," Pope said.

As of Friday morning, no mountain lion - or any other animal - had been caught in the trap. This most likely means the predator was never a mountain lion to begin with, or it has moved on.

Pope did not disclose the exact location of the trap because she didn't want people tampering with it. To have the best chance of capturing a predator, the area needs to be as quiet and free of humans as possible. If you stumble across it, leave it alone, she said. It will be left in place for a few more days.

In her 15 years on the job, Pope said she's never seen a similar deer attack in Cortez. However, she has responded to two calls of mountain lions killing and eating pet dogs that had been tied up or left unattended.

"We live in mountain lion territory," Pope said, speculating that a young animal could have been involved. "My understanding is that, when cubs are ousted from the family unit, that's when they are most likely to get into trouble coming into residential areas, looking for territory and food."

Joe Lewandowski, regional spokesman for Parks and Wildlife, said Brown inspected the carcass and, based on the injuries sustained, was doubtful that it was a mountain lion, but couldn't rule it out. If nothing shows up in the trap, the kill will likely remain a mystery. The impounded dogs aren't talking.

"Generally, people don't have to worry about a mountain lion stalking them in town. They are wary (of humans). We look strange to them - walking on two legs, driving cars, making noise, wearing colored clothing," Lewandowski said.

For safety tips, people are advised to bring pets indoors at night and not let them wander off-leash. Attacks on humans are "exceedingly rare," he said, but nevertheless, people should be mindful of their surroundings, especially if walking a dog at dusk, or if small children are around.

In the event of an encounter, people should make themselves look as big and imposing as possible. Yelling and throwing objects is helpful. But never turn and run, as it triggers a lion's instinct to chase prey.