OURAY COUNTY – Two sub-adult mountain lions were put down in the foothills between Ouray and Ridgway on Sunday, Sept. 8.
The young lions, littermates orphaned last fall when their mother was hit by a car, were not related to the young lion shot by Wildlife Services after killing an alpaca on Aug. 30 in the same area.
The two lions were put down after killing a pet hinny (a cross between a pony and a burro) near the KOA campground in the Idlewild subdivision, about four miles north of Ouray.
The hinny’s name was Prunes, said his owner, longtime Ouray County resident Manette Steele, who discovered the lions inside Prunes’ pen Sunday morning and chased them off. “I’m fortunate they didn’t turn on me,” she said; upon her return to the pen, she discovered Prunes’ remains.
Two two miniature burros sharing the pen with Prunes survived the attack.
“He had to be 48,” Steele said of Prunes. “He didn’t hear, he was older, he couldn’t move and was easy prey,” Steele said.
“They got him Saturday night,” she said of the attack, and on Sunday morning, they “had come back to feed.”
Steele called 911, and county emergency responders arrived less than 15 minutes later “to make sure I and animals were safe,” she said.
The call was referred to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which in turn coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program tasked with protecting agricultural resources from damage or threats posed by wildlife.
A federal officer killed the two lions Sunday night, at approximately 8 p.m., when they returned to the pen to feed on Prunes’ carcass, left out as bait.
The two had been spotted chasing a yak herd near Steele’s property, prior to killing Prunes. According to CPW Area Wildlife Manager Renzo Del Piccolo, they were unrelated to another young lion shot by Wildlife Services in the same area on Aug. 30 after killing an alpaca.
Tags on the dead lions revealed they were the malnourished cubs trapped last fall, and taken to CPW’s Frisco Creek wildlife facility in Del Norte, which concentrates on rehabilitating carnivores. There they were raised in a large cage, with limited exposure to humans. While in captivity, their primary food source was road kill – “deer and other critters, so they could get used to eating fur and bones,” said CPW Southwest Region Public Information Officer Joe Lewandowski – and the occasional live rabbit, to hone their hunting skills.
The young lions were released into their home area in Ouray County about a month ago. CPW commonly releases rehabilitated animals within 10 miles of where they were originally found – “in an area they perhaps have some memory of, some familiarity with,” Lewandowski explained. “You don’t want to put lions in a new area, because other lions have already carved out their territory.
“It’s not an exact science,” he said of the CPW’s rehab program for mountain lions, “but it’s what we have done for years and generally it works well.”
Nonetheless, he observed, “We live in an area where we have wildlife and where we have predators. Most people understand that’s the world we live in, here in western Colorado.”
“Obviously, these guys just chose the wrong meal, and went after livestock,” Del Piccolo added. “We actually have fairly good luck raising orphaned cubs, and they generally don’t get into trouble again, but these guys did, and they did really quickly.”
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