BY TERRY DUBOIS AND HARI VISWANATHAN
We wanted to let the public know that as winter approaches, the activity of mountain lions has increased in Los Alamos as it does every year. Since Los Alamos County has become home to many new residents in recent years, we wanted to make a public service announcement reminding folks that we live amongst the wilderness here. Many do not realize the risks of leaving a pet out at night even briefly. Although lions pass through infrequently (about once a month) they are very stealthy and pets are easy prey to them. In fact, Hari lost his dog Gwennie to a lion back on Christmas Eve 2011 when he let her out in the backyard, which borders a canyon, for a few minutes in the early morning hours. The lion also lost his life during this encounter as Game & Fish had to act and this is how he became passionate about improving the situation.
Mountain lion encounters while rare, often end in preventable tragedy for humans and the lions. We’d like to give a quick recap of events within the last two years so that people are aware of what has happened and what may happen if we don’t become more aware. Last year, Game & Fish had to kill a lion that was killing goats at the stables. This is not to be perceived as being critical of Game & Fish as it is their job to take care of situations such as this. The hope is that stable owners would have taken this as a reminder that animals need to be secured especially at night. In the spring of 2023, a dominant male lion was also killed by Game & Fish for having killed 2 dogs along Walnut Canyon, and another on North Mesa. The two situations on Walnut were a result of dogs left outside unattended at night.
Following the spring incident, we started communicating with Los Alamos County Council in an effort to raise public awareness of lion behavior to prevent future tragedies. Based on research documented by books like “Cougar Conundrum”, the empty spot left by a dominant male will be filled by another lion. Often subadults fill in and they can get in even more trouble since they are not yet used to taking down deer whereas pets are much easier targets. We have lots of deer so mountain lions will take advantage of this territory and are a crucial part of our ecosystem.
Terry has attended all meetings that Game & Fish presented in our community since then, in their effort to raise public awareness. We have asked Council repeatedly to insert an educational flyer in the monthly county bills, and supplied them with a copy of a good informative flyer. Terry has talked with a contact at Game & Fish several times and asked that they talk to the stable owners regarding this issue. Game & Fish is terribly busy and short staffed but we have been assured that it was on a “to do” list. They also said they could do more to raise public awareness, which was very encouraging. Since early May we have been contacting both agencies on a regular basis.
Game cameras on Barranca Mesa, North Mesa, Ponderosa Estates and Walnut Canyon have shown at least one lion roaming at night. A game cam on Ponderosa picked up a mom and two subadults recently. The cameras indicate movement along the perimeter of some of the houses along canyons and wilderness, so it seems a matter of time until we have another pet killed if they are left outside at night and the lions start taking advantage of these easy meals. The lion is cruising at night which is normal lion behavior. Lions have been doing this in Los Alamos County since long before there has been a town here, so it is nothing new. However with many more security, game cameras and social media many are able to finally see these elusive lions.
A few simple steps can easily protect our pets and the lions. Dogs should not be left outside at night and need to be escorted with lights and lots of noise. Owners should first scout their backyards before letting dogs out. Nothing is foolproof, but this will definitely help avoid conflicts. Outdoor cats are a bad idea due to coyotes, cougars, and many other predators. They are also very bad for bird populations.
There is really good information at http://mountainlion.org. We encourage you to become educated on these magnificent creatures who provide a very useful role as an apex predator in our ecosystem. We will continue to engage the Council and Game & Fish to make sure we are doing what we can to keep our pets and our lions safe. Thank you!