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Mountain lions on the prowl around town

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Residents encouraged to use caution when using trails

By Carol A. Clark

Mountain lion sightings have been reported this year in the townsite, which is not unusual since mountain lions are native to the Los Alamos area.

“Los Alamos is a mountain community and this is their habitat,” said New Mexico Game and Fish spokesman Dan Williams.

Williams explained that game and fish personnel respond to local calls and if warranted, tranquilize the animal via dart and transport it into the wilderness. This works in some cases, he said, but in other cases, the mountain lion is known to return several miles to the townsite where it originally located food.

Capt. Randy Foster of the Los Alamos Police Department said he is aware of mountain lions in the area.

“I know there was a mountain lion on North Mesa just last week eating bird seed and drinking from a fountain,” Foster said.  

While attacks on humans are rare, the public is asked to exercise caution, especially when mountain biking, jogging and walking in surrounding trails, according to the game and fish department.

Children and pets are most at risk of being attacked by mountain lions and should be watched closely. Once mountain lions locate food sources, they will stay in the area until they’ve consumed all of the available food.

“We suggest keeping shrubs around homes trimmed back so residents can see when mountain lions are in their yard,” said Rick Winslow, large carnivore and furbearer biologist for the game and fish department.

“We also advise keeping wood piles away from homes to avoid attracting rodents because mountain lions, which hunt the mice and squirrels that inhabit the wood piles.”

The game and fish department suggests taking the following steps when using areas frequented by mountain lions:
•Travel in groups and make enough noise to prevent surprising a lion
•Make sure all children are close to adults, preferably within arm’s reach;
•Don’t allow children to run far in front or behind adults. Their high-pitched voices and rapid movements may attract mountain lions;
•Take a sturdy walking stick. It can be used as a weapon if necessary;
•Never approach a mountain lion. They are unpredictable and will usually avoid confrontation. Give them a way out;
•Never approach a dead animal. It may be a recent mountain lion kill. Partially covered animals also may be dangerous because mountain lions cover their prey between feedings;
•Keep a clean camp. Reduce odors that may attract small mammals like raccoons, which in turn attract mountain lions. Store meat, other foods, pet food and garbage in double plastic bags (ideally, pets should be left at home).

Residents should take the following steps if they encounter a mountain lion:
•Stop or back away slowly if it can be done so safely;
•Stay calm. Talk calmly yet firmly to the animal and move slowly;
•Immediately pick up children off the ground and tell them to stay calm;
•Don’t run; fleeing behavior may trigger the instinct of a mountain lion to attack;
•Face the mountain lion. Do not turn your back. Remain in an upright position and look as large as possible, outstretch arms and open coat if wearing one.

The state of New Mexico encompasses 121,356 square miles of land and according to the game and fish department, mountain lions generally inhabit the rougher country in New Mexico avoiding the low elevation desert areas and eastern plains.

Mountain lion sightings in Los Alamos may be reported to the Northwest Area Office in Albuquerque at 505-222-4700.