Large cougar hit and killed on Highway 82
Finally there’s proof that not only do mountain lions roam the Roaring Fork Valley, but really, really big mountain lions roam the area.
A 165-pound mountain lion was struck and killed this spring by a vehicle on Highway 82 in Snowmass Canyon. It was about three-quarters of a mile east of the Old Snowmass Conoco.
“That’s a really big cat,” said Colorado Division of Wildlife officer Kevin Wright.
Male mountain lions in Colorado are typically between 130 and 160 pounds, according to wildlife division spokesman Todd Malmsbury. Anything over 150 pounds is regarded as large.
This big cat was so big that the Aspen woman who hit it wanted to salvage its loss and put it to good use. She suggested the skin be donated to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies for display. The Division of Wildlife agreed. Officers had the animal skinned, and the hide was delivered to ACES.
ACES executive director Tom Cardamone said he will take the skin to a taxidermist where it will be tanned for several months then stuffed and mounted. He estimated it will cost at least $1,500.
“We’ll find the money and make it happen. It’s too valuable of an educational tool,” Cardamone said. He envisions having the big cat “lounging” on an overhead beam in the ACES lab where thousands of kids and other visitors pass each year.
“I don’t know that we’ll have it roaring with teeth bared – but maybe we will, for the kids,” he said.
Cardamone said there is ample anecdotal evidence of mountain lions living in the Roaring Fork Valley. They have been spotted in places like Shadow Mountain, Red Butte and Rio Grande Trail. His son found a big game carcass that a mountain lion had dragged and buried in Hunter Creek. The Blue Lake Homeowners Association warned residents last summer that a big cat was on the prowl.
The wildlife division said a mountain lion kitten was hit by a vehicle and killed earlier this year on Four Mile Road outside Glenwood Springs. The men that hit it thought it was a bobcat and took it to a taxidermist to be mounted. The taxidermist reported the lion to the wildlife division, and its death was documented. It was a 35-pound female.
Kelly Wood, a wildlife officer for the Basalt district, said mountain lions are a lot more common in the Roaring Fork Valley than people think. They just happen to be reclusive and tough to spot.
“Pretty much where you have deer you have lions,” said Wood.
Malmsbury said estimates place the statewide mountain lion population between 3,000 and 7,000. A hunting season stretches from late November into March.
Mountain lion sightings are even becoming common on the fringes of larger cities, such as Denver and Boulder. Suburban development has provided the big cats with “alternative prey” such as cats and small dogs, Malmsbury said.
So far this year there have been seven mountain lions struck and killed by vehicles in Colorado, according to wildlife division data. Last year a total of 14 were road kill, a number that Malmsbury said is typical. Wildlife officials said the highway signs warning about wildlife on the road should be taken seriously in places like the Roaring Fork Valley.
Wildlife officers Wood and Wright noted that road kill problems seem to have increased in recent years. More of Highway 82 has been widened to four lanes, and, as any commuter can attest, speeds have definitely increased. Crossing the roadway appears more difficult than ever for deer, elk, mountain lions, small game and even bears.
“What I call Interstate 82 is a huge problem for any wildlife trying to get from one side to another,” said Cardamone. He urged motorists to be particularly careful at nighttime when more animals tend to go out.
The latest big cat casualty won’t be on display at ACES for several months.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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