Colt survives apparent lion attack

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
This 51⁄2-week-old colt wears a white T-shirt and protective wrappings to cover its large open wounds, which were inflicted by a suspected mountain lion attack two weeks ago near Silt. The colt is recovering at the Glenwood Veterinary Clinic under the care of Dr. Eric Everett. (Kelley Cox/Post Independent)

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” When Lee Kirk found her 31⁄2-week-old colt cut and bloodied in its Silt Mesa corral the morning of July 4, it raised two questions.

The answer to the first ” what went after the foal ” appears to be a lion.

The deeper mystery is how the colt managed to avoid being killed in the attack, which happened after it got out of its corral.

“Before (the lion) could reach the jugular and bite him, something stopped him,” Kirk said.

Kirk has a hunch that something involved a herd of seven horses in the field surrounding the corral. One or more of them may have fended off the attacker, and she believes one in particular may have been responsible.

Before the incident, an older gelding named Smoky “had bonded with this foal to the point where he didn’t ever want to leave the mare and foal at all,” Kirk said.

Kirk found blood on Smoky’s belly at the same height as shoulder wounds suffered by the foal. She thinks Smoky came to his aid and escorted him back to his pen.

That’s where Kirk discovered the foal’s extensive injuries just before 8 a.m. on that holiday morning. She called the Glenwood Veterinary Clinic, which responded to the scene. Longtime veterinarian Dennis Luedke, who has seen other injuries caused by lions, immediately concluded a lion apparently caused these ones.

“It’s a pretty strong possibility. That would be the most likely thing,” said veterinarian Eric Everett, who graduated this spring from Colorado State University and has been handling much of the foal’s care during his internship this summer at Glenwood Veterinary Clinic.

The large and deep wounds it suffered “could have been pretty much only made by a lion,” Everett said.

Kirk said the foal apparently got out of a small “pass-through” she uses to get in and out of the corral. It may have then squealed to its mother from outside the corral, attracting the lion. Blood marks show how it then returned, wounded, to its corral.

Brian Gray, a district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, examined the scene of the attack on July 6. He was unable to find any mountain lion tracks and only has Luedke’s assessment to go on, but said the attack occurred in an area of good mountain lion habitat.

Lee Kirk and her husband Terry live on Jewell Lane between Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap reservoirs, right up against the rugged flanks of the Grand Hogback. They’ve never seen lions in the area, but neighbors have, Kirk said.

Gray said it’s “very uncommon” for livestock in lower country such as Silt Mesa to be attacked by lions. Big bands of sheep grazing in the high country tend to be more likely targets. But he noted that a lion killed some lambs in Silt last year.

If a lion attacked the foal, it probably wasn’t an adult lion, or it would have killed its prey, Gray believes. He also thinks other horses may have kicked the lion and driven it away.

“Lions don’t like to get injured. An injured lion doesn’t make it very long,” he said.

Everett said half the foal’s body was covered in blood after the attack. Its legs and tail were cut, but the most significant wounds occurred on each side of the top of its neck. They were so deep that they connected and a person could put a finger clear through the neck, Everett said.

“The horse is really lucky to be alive,” Everett said.

The experience may provide some inspiration when the Kirks decide on a name for the young colt.

Said Kirk, “My husband wants to call him Second Chance, or just Chance. I’m not real wild about that … it just doesn’t hit me like a name for this colt.”

Kirk describes the foal as “really sweet.” Everett agrees, but also likes Terry Kirk’s suggested names.

“I think those are pretty appropriate for what the little guy’s been through. Through all of this he’s been a really good sport, he’s been a really good patient. … He’s a real champ.”

Despite the life-threatening injuries, Everett believes the foal will live. He thinks it will have to remain another week with its mother at Glenwood Veterinary Clinic before being able to return home, where its injuries will continue to require care.

He said caregivers initially had to clean grass, cactus and other debris from the foal’s wounds. Keeping horse wounds clean and free of infection can be challenging because of the dirt, flies and other contaminants found in their environment, he said.

The DOW will pay for livestock killed by lions and help with the cost of injuries. If veterinary expenses exceed the value of the foal, Gray said, the agency probably would negotiate a payment with Kirk.

“It would be nice if they helped,” said Kirk. “It’s going to be expensive.”

Gray believes the attack was an isolated incident and the lion, if young, probably moved on. He said people worried about protecting livestock can take steps such as keeping them in corrals at nights, installing lighting and using guard dogs.

Although lions also pose some threat to people ” children in particular ” Gray said there’s a much larger chance of getting bitten by a dog.

Kirk said she didn’t want authorities trying to do anything about the lion that apparently attacked her foal.

“It was just a lion being a lion,” she said.