Man comes face to face with mountain lion Tuesday night in Edwards
Latest sighting is evidence of increased lion presence in Eagle County
EDWARDS — Tuesday night, Sean LaFaver was loading up his car in anticipation of a Wednesday morning trip to Denver when he heard an unusual screeching noise.
He walked around the corner of his Homestead house to investigate and got a big surprise. About 10 feet away, sitting in a tree, was a mountain lion.
“We had a stare off for a moment or so,” said LaFaver. “It was definitely an adrenaline rush.”
“But I didn’t want to hang out outside for too long,” he said.
LaFaver didn’t want to put himself in a dangerous situation, so he went back into his home and turned on his outdoor lights. He then captured photos of the animal, which was accompanied by a pair of cubs and dragging a dead deer.
A decade ago, LaFaver’s experience would have been very rare. But according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Craig Wescoatt, local mountain lion sightings have definitely increased.
“We don’t have a really good grasp on the actual number of lions in Eagle County,” Wescoatt said. “But there are a lot more lions around, and they are closer to the urban interface.”
Out for a quick bite
Like other carnivores in the wild, mountain lions are always on the lookout for an easy meal.
“Lions are definitely carrion eaters,” said Wescoatt.
That means a lion will pounce in for a quick meal when they spot roadkill, said Wescoatt. In addition to deer, lions prey on smaller mammals.
“Racoons are really high in fat content, so a lion gets a big bang for the buck for killing and eating a raccoon, at very low risk,” said Wescoatt. “They are also learning that cats and dogs are a good, easy meal.”
Such easy eating brings lions closer to humans. “I don’t think this is an issue with human safety, even with the numbers we are seeing,” said Wescoatt. But, he added, it is always important to be aware that we share our environment with these predators.
Wescoatt’s first piece of advice is to always be aware of your surroundings. If you encounter a mountain lion, make yourself look as large as possible, don’t turn your back on the animal and don’t run away.
“If the animal attacks, fight back with everything you have,” said Wescoatt.
That’s how a Front Range man survived a mountain lion attack earlier this month.
Locally, mountain lion sightings have prompted Eagle County Alert notifications and trail warnings. Last week, the town of Eagle temporarily closed the Haymaker Trail when there was evidence of lion activity close by.
“I don’t want to downplay the presence of lions and we do have a whole lot more lions around and a lot more lions closer to towns, but lion kill doesn’t account for every dead animal out there,” said Wescoatt.
Not so solitary
The three lions LaFaver spotted Tuesday night weren’t the only ones he saw this week. At about 5 a.m. Tuesday, he was looking out a window in his home when he saw a large male mountain lion trekking through his yard.
“We are seeing a big increase in the number of lion reports and an especially big increase in the reports of lions in groups. All of this has happened in the last ten years, for sure, and really more in the last five years,” said Wescoatt. “Lions are a lot more tolerant of one another than we previously thought.”
LaFaver said one of his neighbors, who set up a trail camera, can attest to that. He noted other neighbors have seen lion prints in the snow around their property. Knowing that there are lions around, LaFaver said he takes special care going outside or letting out his dog.
“We are in their habitat so we just try to keep that awareness of where they are and stay alert,” said LaFaver.
After his Tuesday night encounter, LaFaver contacted the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office to report the group of lions hanging out in his Edwards neighborhood.
“I just wanted people to be aware of it more than anything,” he said. “Seeing them was cool and scary at the same time.”