Backyard Mountain Lion Thrills Pine Creek Woman
Rarely Seen, Many Big Cats Roam the Paradise Valley
BY PHIL KNIGHT
Mountain Lion. Puma. Panther. Cougar. Catamount. Ghost Cat. Felis concolor goes by many names, and is the most widespread predator in the Western Hemisphere, found where prey is abundant from the Yukon to Tierra del Fuego. And if you are Bev LoPorto of Pine Creek, they can also be found in your back yard.
On November 19, Bev was enjoying a morning espresso on her sofa, reading the newspaper, when her peripheral vision caught a flash of movement outside, across the creek. "I thought it was a deer at first, because we have plenty of those around here," she told me. She turned back to her newspaper, but something about the shape of the animal made her look again. She walked to the big window in her French doors, looked out and exclaimed "Oh My God!" It was a mountain lion.
Not wanting to startle the cat, she backed away from the window slowly, then crept upstairs and got her camera. She returned downstairs and saw that the lion was still there, now taking a drink from the creek, using his big tongue to lap up water. As the lion lingered, Loporto managed to snap several photographs of the animal. "He sat on his haunches and looked around, then got up and took another drink," said Bev. "Then he walked away and disappeared."
Loporto has lived with her husband in Pine Creek for twenty years, and had never seen a mountain lion before. Her husband, Blasius Bauer, who grew up in Montana but was not home when the lion arrived, has never seen one that close up.
After the lion wandered off, Loporto got on the phone to local friends, warning them to bring in any pets they might have outside. "We don't have any pets, but I wanted to warn our neighbors who do," she said. Mountain lions are known to take domestic animals, including dogs and cats. (A friend near Bozeman saw a mountain lion snatch her pet cat. She ran out and hollered at the lion, which dropped the cat and fled. The cat survived.)
"After I called my neighbors, I called the Forest Service," said Loporto. They told her they would pass on the information about the sighting to Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
"I can't believe the interest this is generating," Loporto said. A short piece about the sighting appeared in the Livingston Enterprise December 14. Her neighbor, Mike Miller, also saw the cat. Bev said she has been getting calls from interested folks, many of whom want to see her photos. "This has turned me into a minor celebrity," she laughed. She also said that, for a few days after her mountain lion sighting, "I saw very few deer in the neighborhood."
People who have seen Bev's photos judge it to have been a young male cat, probably two years old, weighing perhaps one hundred twenty pounds. Males can weigh up to one hundred eighty pounds. Young adults, from one to two years old, commonly wander in search of territory, and may not be as wary as older cats. They may also be more aggressive. Common wisdom says that if you meet a mountain lion that takes an interest in you, do everything you can to appear large and make a lot of noise. Don't run from the animal—by doing so you would appear as prey. If the cat attacks you, fight back with everything you’ve got.
Mountain lion attacks are rare but they do occur. According to Wild Earth Guardians, eighteen people are known to have been killed nationwide by mountains lions between 1890 and 2008. Smaller people by themselves, and solo runners and cyclists, appear to be the most vulnerable (see sidebar).
Paradise Valley, with plenty of rugged mountainous country on its perimeter, abundant deer and elk, and a modest number of people, is ideal mountain lion habitat and may host as many as fifty of the big cats. They are not rare, but they are mainly nocturnal and extremely secretive, so getting a close look at one in daylight, as Bev LoPorto did, may be an event that happens once in a lifetime, if ever.
"This was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen," Loporto said.
Phil Knight lives in Bozeman and is the author of Into Deepest Yellowstone.
BY T. R. MADER
Mountain lions are highly effici-ent predators, big solitary cats with a wide range throughout the West, and populations are increas-ing. An individual cat's range depends on food availability, and can vary from 10 to 370 square miles.
Males weigh up to 165 pounds and grow to more than eight feet in length. Females weigh about 100 pounds, and reproduce at about two and a half years of age. Generally they have two or three kittens. A mountain lion's life span is estimated at 12 years in the wild, though cats live up to 25 years in captivity.
Mountain lions tend to live in remote country and are seldom seen by humans. They hunt their prey by stealth and ambush, killing usually with a powerful bite at the base of the skull, breaking the neck. The mountain lion, like a domestic cat with a mouse, will kill for the sake of killing, and may kill many more animals in an attack than it can consume. Lions have killed as many as twenty sheep at one time, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
A mountain lion’s diet consists of deer, elk, porcupines, small mammals, livestock, and pets, but lions prefer deer. Experts say a lion kills one deer every 9 to 14 days, but in some areas, it has been found that a lion kills as many as two deer per week. In Montana, biologists find that wolves often chase a lion off its kill and consume it, so that the lion is forced to take more prey.
Of the few documented mountain lion attacks on humans, most victims were small children. Of the 50 recorded attacks in the past 100 years, most occurred in the last 20 years. All hiking fatalities in California have occurred to single hikers. Since 1991, 10 people have been killed by lions in North America.
T.R. Mader is Research Director of Abundant Wildlife Society of North America.
Note: In 1989 near Evaro, Mont., a boy, age 5, was killed by two or three lions, possibly a female with kittens, while riding his tricycle in his front yard. The boy was dragged and the body was found hours later.
In 1998, a lion severely attacked a 6-year-old boy in Basin, Montana, after he turned and ran at a campground with 50 adults present. The cat then approached two men, one of whom was a Blackfeet tribal officer wearing a sidearm. He fired several shots and wounded the cat. The lion was tracked later that day and then killed.
Also in 1998, a lion attacked a 6-year-old boy hiking with three dozen campers on Marshall Mountain near Missoula. In 1990, another youngster was mauled by a lion in Glacier National Park.