A Tuesday afternoon search by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Pagosa Springs Police Department for a mountain lion seen near the Pagosa Springs intermediate and junior high schools turned up tracks on the hillside behind the schools.
A call came in to Combined Dispatch at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday from Chris Hinger, principal at the junior high school, reporting a sighting of a mountain lion, said Officer Tony Kop of the police department.
Hinger noted that he and other school personnel saw the cat walking along the ridge above Lewis Street and, while he didn’t think the school was in danger from the cat, Hinger believed he should take the precaution of calling.
The schools placed more staff on duty at lunch and following the school day due to the sighting, but did not announce the sighting to the school population, Hinger said.
Law enforcement personnel, including Kop, responded to the call, but did not see anything in the area of the schools, at which point a representative of the Division of Wildlife arrived at the scene and continued the search onto the hillside, Kop reported.
“Based on what Principal Hinger said, he saw what looked like a smaller, younger cat,” said Adrian Archuleta, responding DOW district wildlife manager.
Indeed, tracks distinctive of a small, adolescent cat were found leading partway down the hillside toward the school, said Archuleta, adding that it looked like the cat likely turned around after seeing the schools and hearing the noise from the school bells.
Archuleta added that cat tracks are distinctive from bobcat tracks in that cats, such as mountain lions, step in the same track as they move forward.
“Even getting a sighting of a cat is pretty rare,” Archuleta said. Archuleta contributes the sighting of the adolescent cat to the lack of an established territory.
“It’s not uncommon for younger cats to roam around and not have an establish area,” Archuleta said, adding, “Mountain lions are generally calm, quiet and very elusive. Usually there are lions around and people never see them.”
While sightings of mountain lions are rare, Archuleta did note that sightings seem to occur in the same area on a yearly basis, likely due to the higher densities of food sources, such as deer, in those areas in winter.
“That’s the beauty of why we live here,” Hinger said, adding, “It’s not every day you get to see that.”
Educational fliers will be taken to the schools and will be made available to interested parties, Archuleta said. He added that the DOW Web site, wildlife.state.co.us/, is the best source of information.
“It’s important for people to know to not feed deer and, really, not even make them feel welcome, due to the lions,” he said.