Sightings of big cats on rise in city's parks, greenbelt

Associated Press


A young cougar crouches in a box elder tree in July in Petersboro, Utah, after being chased by dogs. There have been no fatal attacks by cougars in Idaho since the 1800s, but other states in the West have had them.

BOISE _ It seems unlikely, but an increasing number of mountain lions have been spotted along Boise's famous greenbelt and in urban parks during the past few months.

On Monday, Gary Mountain was riding his bicycle on a path near the Boise River at lunchtime when he spotted a cougar crossing the greenbelt below Warm Springs Mesa.

"I thought, `Do I look like a predator to him or do I look like lunch?"' Mountain said after the incident.

Idaho Fish and Game officials say mountain lions are more common this year in the foothills above Boise because deer numbers have increased.

Mild winters in the past few years have increased deer numbers; and mountain lions follow the herds. In all, there have been about a dozen reports in the past several months in the Boise area.

There have been no fatal attacks by mountain lions in Idaho since the late 1800s, officials said. But other western states have had them. A jogger was killed in Auburn, Calif., in 1994.

Mountain lions -- also called cougars, pumas or panthers -- may weigh up to 160 pounds and measure eight feet from nose to tail.

Although deer are a primary food for mountain lions, the large cats also will eat neighborhood cats and small dogs.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture trapped and killed a mountain lion north of Hidden Springs because it was eating livestock.

Conservation officers with tracking dogs are dispatched immediately to reports of sightings.

"We have no tolerance for mountain lions in developed areas," said Jon Rachael, regional wildlife manager for Fish and Game. "We don't want them in residential areas."

Since May, sighting reports have included a small neighborhood park near the greenbelt. Another was spotted near Barber Park, favored by hundreds of tubers and rafters who float the Boise River in summertime.

Cougars are highly territorial, and young cats that leave their mothers have to find their own terrain. They often find easy pickings in the city.

Idaho's cougar population is estimated at 2,000, Rachael said.

"This is not a really rare occurrence," said Rachael. "We've been trying to chase mountain lions down on the greenbelt for years."


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