Mountain lion spotted near trail after dog’s disappearance

November 26, 2018 GMT

A cow carcass lying near popular hiking trails in Santa Fe National Forest is sparking concerns about predators, particularly after reports on social media that an unleashed dog went missing while walking ahead of its owner on the Borrego Trail.

Lily Azures, a former hunter who now runs an operation called Paw Trackers that helps track down lost pets, thinks Toby, the missing 40-pound terrier mix, might have been taken by a mountain lion.

Azures said she hiked with Toby’s owner to the site where the dog disappeared and saw several big cat tracks in the area. Earlier this week, she placed cameras near the carcass to test her theory.

Footage Azures uploaded to the Paw Trackers Facebook page appears to prove her right: The videos, with time stamps from Tuesday afternoon and evening, show at least one large cat ambling about and feasting on the cow remains.

Azures hopes the videos will warn people away from the area or, at the very least, convince hikers to keep their animals leashed so they don’t get nabbed by a large predator.

“A cat and human encounter is dangerous, any way you cut it. … They are powerful animals,” Azures said. “I needed to get those cameras down there to show them, ‘This is what I saw,’ and the cameras didn’t fail me.”

She put up a handwritten sign near the Borrego Trailhead warning hikers of predators in the area and has urged the U.S. Forest Service to close hiking trails, including Borrego, Bear Wallow and part of the Winsor Trail.

A Santa Fe National Forest spokesman did not return a message Friday seeking information on whether trail closures were possible. As of Friday evening, however, no trail closures had been announced in the forest.

Earlier in the week, the Forest Service sent out a news release warning members of the public to be aware of wildlife while hiking, especially if they come across animal remains that large predators might be using for food.

The release warned that people who find a carcass should stay calm, make plenty of noise to alert nearby animals and leave the area.

“You may have disturbed a nearby animal that is reliant upon the food source,” the release says. “Mountain lions and bears often seek safety when humans appear, but given their possible dependence on the carcass they could become defensive.”

Anyone who encounters a bear or a mountain lion should be loud, try to make themselves look as big as possible, and back away slowly while facing the animal, the release says: “Do not run.”

Azures doesn’t think the warnings go far enough. She wants to see area trails closed to prevent any more animals from going missing, to protect hikers and to protect wildlife she thinks could be in danger from hunters.

Some, she said, already have mentioned on social media that they planned to stake out the site in hopes of snatching a big cat.

“We are in a drought,” Azures said. “These are horrible conditions and the animals are starving. You drop a dead carcass into this drought, and you have the perfect storm for disaster.”