|Arizona Game and Fish Department officials announced that a wildlife specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services on December 5, killed an adult female mountain lion on Mount Elden where there have been three recent incidents with a lion acting aggressively toward people.
Game and Fish officials said they cannot be absolutely sure the cougar killed was the same one in the recent incidents, including one where a lion came within 10 feet of a hiker, threatened that hiker, and attacked his dog.
However, said Rick Miller, a habitat biologist with Game and Fish, "This is as good as it gets as far as trying to get the animal responsible for at least the recent incident with the hiker and his dog. Mountain lions are territorial. This one was found a short distance from the trail where the human-lion incidents occurred."
Mike Senn, a Game and Fish assistant director, added that once a mountain lion shows it has lost its fear of humans and begins acting aggressively toward them, it is a "time bomb" waiting to go off. "People have asked why we didn't capture this animal and relocate it. The simple answer is, you don't relocate a time bomb to go off somewhere else. That would be irresponsible," he said.
Miller explained that the wildlife specialist who tracked and killed the lion rode the loop trail and found only one set of lion tracks crossing that trail. Those tracks came from inside the loop and were headed up the mountain. "The wildlife specialist flushed the cougar from its hiding spot within a quarter mile of the Fat Man's Loop trail on the side of Mount Elden," Miller said.
The lion was taken to a laboratory in Phoenix to be tested for rabies. "Lions are typically secretive animals that are seldom seen by people. A lion acting aggressively toward humans is not typical behavior. That is why it is necessary to test such an animal for rabies," said Senn, who had extensive experience dealing with human-lion interactions while working in the Prescott area.
Department biologists added that Mount Elden this time of year has plenty of deer for a lion to eat, which makes this lion's aggressiveness toward humans and pets even more suspect.
Another question people have asked is why the lion wasn't captured and taken to a zoo. "There is no lack of lions in educational facilities like zoos. Nor do zoos want adult lions that have showed the lack of fear or have been aggressive toward humans once again, it is that time-bomb factor," said Kerry Baldwin, education branch chief for Game and Fish. Miller still cautioned people about recreating in the area of Mount Elden where the lion was captured. "When the Forest Service reopens the trail, hikers should act responsibly and must still be aware of their surroundings, and the need to control both their children and dogs," he said.
Senn added that the department is working with the U.S. Forest Service to develop proactive education for the public in an attempt to avoid similar situations in the future.
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