Steamboat Springs Carol Baily lived in Routt County for 25 years and never saw a mountain lion, but she isn't necessarily upset that her first encounter was with a dead one.
On March 15, the morning after returning from a weeklong vacation, Baily found a mountain lion motionless on a patch of grass near her deck.
"It kind of took my breath away," Baily said. "I was amazed more than anything."
Originally, Baily thought the lion was sleeping, but when she noticed its eyes were open and glassy, and the body wasn't moving, she realized the lion was dead and called the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
District Wildlife Manager Justin Pollock, who said he has received two phone calls dealing with dead mountain lions on porches in the past five years, arrived at Baily's home in the Oak Creek Canyon off Colorado Highway 131 on Thursday morning.
He said the mountain lion died of starvation.
The mountain lion in Baily's yard was a 4- or 5-year-old male, measuring 6-foot-4 from the tip of its tail to its nose, and weighed about 100 pounds.
An average male mountain lion of that age weighs 140 to 150 pounds.
"It had started to metabolize its own muscle," Pollock said. "What caused that is what we are looking into right now. This was an adult male in good shape. There was no reason for him to be emaciated. The only injury I found was on a paw, but it wouldn't have prevented it from eating. There was nothing in his stomach, nothing in his esophagus."
Originally, Pollock suspected the mountain lion died after eating a porcupine and getting quills stuck in its esophagus. Pollock found about two dozen quills on the lion's pelt, but none internally.
Baily found a dead porcupine in her driveway, and is positive a mountain lion killed the porcupine because all that remained was half a skull and the pelt. Pollock isn't positive but strongly suspects the dead mountain lion killed the porcupine.
"It looked like it had been surgically split," Baily said.
Baily said there were signs something was wrong when she arrived home late March 14. The gutted porcupine in the driveway was the first signal. The abnormal behavior of her pets was the second.
Baily's cats are fond of the outdoors, so she was surprised to find a full litter box when she returned.
But Baily didn't suspect a mountain lion was the cause, and she even sat on her deck the night of March 14.
"I've lived here 25 years and never seen a mountain lion," Baily said.
It wasn't until the next day that Baily found the mountain lion.
Mountain lion sightings are rare in Routt County, Pollock said.
Pollock, who roams the area between Routt and Jackson counties, said sightings are uncommon in this area because mountain lions, which are territorial animals, usually roam in an area about 100 square miles and traditionally steer clear of people.
"I've only seen one from a helicopter," he said. "They are big carnivores and real secretive. I don't know if our population estimates are all that great."
The lions typically follow the deer and elk herds, which are their primary source of food.
The mountain lion Baily found will be used for educational purposes, Pollock said. The DOW helps children learn more about animals by feeling pelts.
"We talk about where they live and how they live," Pollock said.
With mountain biking and hiking season approaching, Pollock wanted to remind children and adults what they should do if they see a mountain lion.
"You don't want to run," Pollock said. "Appear bigger and come back the way you came. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they will hear you and see you before you see them, and you won't see them. Talk in a stern voice. The big thing is, don't be confused as prey. For kids, let someone know if you see a mountain lion, so they can let (the DOW) know."
- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org