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Danger In The Foothills: Mountain Lion Attacks Increase

February 17, 1991 GMT

DENVER (AP) _ Man and mountain lion are in the throes of a violent struggle for space at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. After a jogger was killed last month, some say the huge cats have ″gone mad.″

Others, however, maintain that’s just how things are in the rugged West.

″We can’t guarantee anyone’s safety out there. There’s a certain risk to living, and if you live in this part of the country, this has become a part of it,″ said Bob Davies, a Colorado Springs wildlife officer.

Recently, there have been mountain lion attacks reported in Montana, Colorado, California, Texas, Arizona, and even British Columbia in Canada. And over last summer, wardens and scared residents killed at least four mountain lions in the region that threatened humans or attacked livestock. Two fatal attacks in recent years have particularly frightened residents in the West. In all, fewer than a dozen fatal attacks have been documented in the United States and Canada in the past century.

In September 1989, 5-year-old Jake Gardipe was killed by a mountain lion while riding his tricycle in his front yard in the small, wooded town of Evaro in western Montana. The boy was dragged from the yard, and his body was found nearby several hours later.

On Jan. 14, Scott Dale Lancaster, 18, was attacked as he was jogging near his high school in Idaho Springs, west of Denver. Wildlife officials theorize the running may have triggered a ″cat-and-mouse″ response in the 3-year-old male cougar, which attacked from behind.

The cougar apparently killed Lancaster before he could defend himself. The lion, still in the area when the body was found, was shot and killed.

Not long thereafter, Colorado Springs police shot and killed a 151-pound mountain lion after it killed a dog chained to a porch.

In the weeks since Lancaster died, wildlife officials have spent long hours meeting with concerned people who live in the mountain foothills, which mountain lions also call home.

″Even some who have lived here a long time now believe the lions have gone mad,″ said Mike Sanders of Boulder County Parks and Open Spaces.

Colorado Division of Wildlife officials, however, say people had better get used to it, because the humans aren’t moving out and neither are the mountain lions.

Davies notes that one of the reasons people move to the Rocky Mountain region is to be near wildlife. Humans have built houses in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains because these are some of the choicest spots, featuring natural settings and wide open spaces.

But it’s also choice mountain lion habitat. Wildlife officials say some have made matters worse by trying to feed the deer and raccoons or even providing salt licks in their backyards.

″People here have been living with mountain lions for years, but people who move here haven’t the foggiest notion how to live with them,″ he said. ″They find deer, they find raccoons, but forget that there are mountain lions and, by the way, bears, too.″

Mountain lions are tawny-colored cats that can grow up to 9 feet long, with a 36-inch tail, and weigh 200 pounds or more. They are also known as pumas, panthers, catamounts and painters. They have 1 1/2 -inch-long claws and 2- inch-long fangs and attack their prey by sinking claws into the shoulder and chest and biting the neck. They have enough strength in their jaws to break a deer’s neck.

Todd Malmsbury, spokesman for the division, said the mountain lion population has skyrocketed, along with their prey - deer and raccoons - because of conservation efforts since the turn of the century.

Malmsbury estimates there are 1,500 to 3,000 mountain lions along Colorado’s Front Range and eastern foothills, but said it is difficult to provide an exact figure because it is hard to do a nose count on the big cats, since each has up to a 300-square-mile range.