By Ken Singer
Perhaps it was interest generated by the recent attack by a mountain lion on a man who was running on a trail at Horsetooth Reservoir last week. (Instead of being the lion’s dinner, the runner fought off the 80 pound lion, strangling it to save his life.) Or maybe it was that since Lyons is part of lions’ territory, that a presentation hosted by the Western Stars Gallery last Saturday drew an overflow crowd estimated at 150 to 175 from
seniors to toddlers. The talk, presented by David Neils of Loveland spent almost two hours with videos of his “creature cams” showing the big cats feeding, drinking and walking about.
Neils has been an enthusiastic promoter of mountain lion awareness for 17 years. He said he is fortunate enough to live near the largest concentration of the big cats in the world. The Front Range from the Wyoming border to south of Lyons, especially around Sylvan Dale near Loveland, has a great habitat for the lions as well as bears, mule and whitetail deer, big horn sheep, elk, bobcats and even a few badgers. The north/south ridge lines have watering spots, meadows and other features which favor the predators with lots of game.
The big cats (also known as cougars, pumas, and panthers) are only found in 16 states. They are “apex predators,” along with wolves and bears. However, though wolves and bears will eat fruits and berries in addition to meat, lions eat only meat. While wolves are not common to this area, the only problem for a mountain lion is being attacked by a wolf pack, not individual wolves. Though bears and the big cats share similar terrain, they generally co-exist and don’t bother each other.
Neils described the eating habits of the lions. After taking down a deer or other prey, they go for the chest cavity (heart, lungs, liver) for the nutrient-rich organ meat. They will later return to eat the other parts, if other creatures such as foxes, birds of prey, and coyotes, don’t get to them first. The lions don’t like their kills after they get a little smelly, leaving them for the scavengers.
Neils recalled a hike he took with one of his dogs, unaware that he was near a recent lion kill. When his dog was extremely nervous, he saw blood dripping in the snow from a tree. He looked up and witnessed a lion with a deer carcass up a cottonwood tree. The lion had dragged the deer ten feet up the tree and had it draped over a horizontal limb. He walked away slowly, as the lion was more interested in his meal than Neils or the dog.
Neils has been going into lion territory three days a week for many years and is not really concerned with his safety. “Humans are not on the menu,” he said. Lion attacks on humans are extremely rare. The odds of being attacked and killed by a lion are extremely low. However, Neils keeps a large bear whistle around his neck and recommended that hikers, bikers and others get one (available at Jax stores).
Asked by an audience member to blow the whistle, he declined as the shrill blast would be painful for the audience to hear. Once, he needed it when a large black bear that he did not see, noticed him about ten yards away. The bear was about five yards away and erect on his hind legs when Neils grabbed his whistle and sounded it. The bear took off.
Neils uses Browning cameras for his stills and videos. He sets them up at the lion’s height, near watering holes and trails that they frequent. The cameras are triggered by a combination of motion and heat sensors and cost about $200. The investment can pay off with some fascinating footage.
Robin Sloan, who also spoke at the presentation, lives in Lyons and said that she has only seen one lion in 17 years, but her camera has picked up several good photos over that time. It is far more likely that a mountain lion will be watching you than that you will see a lion.
Neils runs numerous workshops, and will take hikers out to the areas where the big cats roam. He provides hands-on learning experiences for pre-schoolers to seniors through his organization, Wildnaturemedia.com.
The program is research-oriented as well as focusing on wildlife conservation and education. He seeks to provide “non-invasive wildlife research techniques using a combination of remote cameras.