Eye On Boise

Dumpster-diving mountain lion had 'crossed the line,' couldn't return to wild

Matt O'Connell, Idaho Fish & Game senior conservation officer, talks about the subadult mountain lion that was shot Monday night on the BSU campus, after hanging out in town for several days and  being spotted in a Dumpster rooting for food. (Betsy Russell)
Matt O'Connell, Idaho Fish & Game senior conservation officer, talks about the subadult mountain lion that was shot Monday night on the BSU campus, after hanging out in town for several days and being spotted in a Dumpster rooting for food. (Betsy Russell)

It turns out that mountain lions could be wandering the Boise River greenbelt at any time, preying on stay cats and squirrels, staying undercover, and keeping away from humans - and that's fine. The problem with the half-grown cat that was shot by police last night around midnight was that it had stopped behaving like a resident of the wild, and more like a townie - after its picnic on a deer carcass in a Warm Springs Mesa resident's front-yard flower garden, the lion had moved into town and stayed, gone for several jogs on the greenbelt, and then hung out on the BSU campus, where it was inside a Dumpster at the student union, feasting on garbage, when it was spotted.

"We did make a couple of attempts to try to get it out of town, and unfortunately, it stayed in town," said Matt O'Connell, senior conservation officer at Idaho Fish & Game, shown here. The first plan was to use "aversive conditioning," firing rubber bullets at the big cat to scare it back into the foothills it came from, when it was still in the Warm Springs Mesa neighborhood where it killed the deer, right across the street from a deep ravine leading back into the hills. But once it moved into town, that wouldn't have worked, and tranquilizing the animal could compromise it, O'Connell said, possibly sending it running into traffic or other trouble before the tranquilizer could take effect. "Employees saw the cat in a Dumpster on campus right near the student union," he said. "The cat had kind of crossed the line between normal behavior," and was going after human-provided - not natural - food sources.

Boise typically sees "one or two cats a year that wander into town," O'Connell said. Typically, when humans encounter mountain lions, "Normally, the lion is going to run," he said. "Lions are very wary of people. They're very clever at hiding. Most of the time it's not a worrisome thing." He added, "If they stay on the greenbelt mostly out of sight, nobody knows about it."

O'Connell said he was "disappointed" at the result this time, but added, "At least now people can use the greenbelt" without worrying about the big cat. "I feel bad for the animal," he said. "I never like to see an animal, especially a young one like this, dying, but sometimes it's just the reality of what we have to do."




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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