Kearney incident proves mountain lions real concern

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It was sad to see that a young male mountain lion was shot and killed by Kearney police officers Monday, but the possible alternative -- injury or death of a child or adult -- is terrifying.

About the time children were leaving for school, a mountain lion was seen walking around a Southwest Kearney neighborhood of newer, medium-sized homes, not far from a popular new park.

A tranquilizer gun wasn't immediately available, and would have taken a long time to act even if it were, experts said.

What wasn't mentioned in initial reports was the fact that authorities would have no place to take the cat once it recovered.

Nebraska doesn't have public lands large enough to handle a mountain lion, and neighboring states have refused to take the big cats that are captured here, Sam Wilson, a wildlife biologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission told the Lincoln Journal Star.

We remember, in years past, denials by the same agency that mountain lions were spreading across the state -- and it still says it cannot confirm reports of the big cats feeding on livestock here.

But, since 1991, 14 mountain lions have been shot, five were struck by vehicles and one was killed by a train in Nebraska. Forty-eight confirmed sightings have been reported outside of the Pine Ridge region in northwest Nebraska, the animal's traditional habitat.

Unfortunately, civilization and mountain lions don't mix, with male cats having a range of 50 to 400 square miles. If you've spent much time in the outdoors, they say, and have never seen a mountain lion, one has probably seen you.

We're not going to sound the alarm of a serious mountain lion danger in Southwest Nebraska, but Kearney's incident proves it is certainly possible to encounter one of the big cats. The Republican River valley and its tributaries -- even Kelley Creek through McCook -- are possible range for the creatures.

It's not out of line to make sure children are aware of the danger and always supervised when they are outside in possible mountain lion territory.

If you do happen to encounter a mountain lion, remember not to do anything -- like croutching, running or turning your back -- that might remind the big cat of prey like a deer or smaller animal.

The Mountain Lion Foundation advises you to make yourself appear larger and more aggressive. Open your jacket, raise your arms, throw stones, branches, etc., without turning away. Wave raised arms slowly and speak slowly, firmly and loudly to disrupt and discourage predatory behavior.

Try to remain standing to protect your head and neck and, if attacked, fight back with whatever is at hand (without turning your back). People have used rocks, jackets, garden tools, tree branches and even bare hands to turn away cougars, the foundation advises.

No, civilization and mountain lions may not mix, but we hope people and the big cats can learn to share a "live and let live" attitude.

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