August 27, 1996 in Nation/World

Cougars Starting To Outnumber Cats In Mullan Bold Mountain Lions Stalking Kittens In Broad Daylight

By The Spokesman-Review

The city of Mullan, Idaho, is facing a feline crisis courtesy of felis concolor - the mountain lion.

A handful of the big cats - also called pumas or cougars - have been wandering this little city’s downtown this summer, stalking their domestic counterparts and alarming residents.

State and federal wildlife managers blame at least three feline fatalities on the cougars.

“We’ve got lots of cougars in this area,” said Doyle Reynolds, a state game warden, “but for one to get this close to humans is highly unusual.”

Two weeks ago, a federal game officer shot a 180-pound male cat near the highway. Last week, Reynolds shot a 50-pound yearling after Mullan resident Letta Hiatt found it staring down her pets on her front lawn.

“I was out rolling up the hose when one of my kittens ran by and I caught something out of the corner of my eye,” she said. “I looked up and it was a cougar - two feet away from me. We looked at each other, I screamed ‘Oh my God’ and it ran away.”

Cougars are the most common large cats in the world and are the biggest felines that purr. They rarely stray too near people, although attacks on humans aren’t unheard of.

A woman in British Columbia was killed just last week when she tried to protect her son from a mountain lion. The lion had pounced on him after he had been thrown from his horse.

In Mullan, these typically nocturnal hunters seem to be strolling neighborhoods in broad daylight. Game managers aren’t sure why. Some theories suggest hot weather and an overabundance of lions have squeezed the beasts onto human turf. Others suggest humans are invading lions’ turf.

Reynolds believes at least some of the younger cats are related, and may have lost their mother before learning to hunt.

Either way, the cats aren’t a likely threat to humans, he said, but “you have to respect them and stay out of their way.”

Residents in Mullan - the last Idaho outpost before Interstate 90 crosses into Montana - are unsure whether to find the visits fascinating or terrifying.

In July, resident Ron Hayes, riding by on a motorcycle, saw a lion crossing streets near Mullan with a fur ball in its jaws. He stopped after seeing Cathy Welker on her porch, and discovered the lion had been chasing their cat.

“I figured out what was in its mouth,” he said. “Let’s just say they don’t have a kitten anymore.”

The cougar returned to the Welkers’ yard several times, at first mesmerizing, but eventually worrying the family.

“The big one was gorgeous - at least 4 feet tall,” she said. “But we have a family with a little girl moving in next door.”

While no sightings have been reported since last week’s shooting, widow Byrdine Clark has changed her routine - just in case.

She ceased her daily stroll along the railroad tracks - on the off chance the cougar she saw is still lurking about.

“This one gentleman said the one we saw wasn’t the one they shot; it was gray and this one was brown,” she said. “But he also has only one eye,” Clark said of the witness.

, DataTimes

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