SANDPOINT — The Bonner County Sheriff’s Office is warning residents to be careful after a rash of cougar sightings in the northern part of Bonner County and the deaths of several alpacas and a miniature horse.
BCSO issued a Nixle alert at 3:18 p.m. Tuesday warning residents in the area of Colburn Culver, Rapid Lightning and Lower Pack River roads to exercise caution after the attacks. Officials said the cougar entered a barn near the intersection of Lower Pack River and Rapid Lightning roads about 3 p.m. on Monday, attacking and killing a miniature horse inside, dragging the animal outside before being scared away by gunfire. The cougar also is believed responsible for the death of three alpaca recently as well as a deer at the Idaho Club on Monday night.
The cougar was recently sighted near the Northside Elementary School and the Pack River Store.
“This animal is very active,” BCSO officials said in the alert, advising residents to call Bonner Dispatch at 208-265-5525 if they see this cougar.
BCSO will contact Idaho Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Both agencies are actively working on locating and trapping this animal.
On Facebook, news of the attacks spread quickly with residents sharing photos of cougars captured on game cameras and reporting sightings of the cats in their area.
“This is more than one cat,” Dusty Copeland commented. “In our area they come every two weeks, kill livestock and cover it up; coming back a couple of times, then move on.”
On its website, Idaho Fish and Game officials said cougar sightings serve as a reminder to use caution in areas where they are reported to be active.
Because cougars, also known as mountain lions, are territorial, young adults sometimes move into marginal, non-typical habitats, such as urban areas, looking for an unoccupied territory.
While mountain lions are elusive and tend to live in remote areas, the number of mountain lion/human interactions is likely to increase as more people move into lion habitat and deer populations increase near and within area communities, the department said in a 2017 press release. Also deer often move into the lush green irrigated areas near humans and mountain lions will follow. Because they are mostly nocturnal and very secretive, they are seldom seen, IDFG officials said.
To discourage wild animals, including mountain lions, from exploring their property, Idaho Fish and Game urges homeowners to follow these precautions:
• Do not attract wildlife, especially deer, into your yard by feeding them. Lions will be attracted to these prey animals.
Landscape or remove vegetation that could provide hiding places for animals. Remove enough so wildlife cannot enter your yard undetected.
• Roaming pets are easy prey. Bring pets in at night or put them into a kennel.
• Do not leave pet food outside as this may attract lions or other bothersome animals such as raccoons, and skunks that lions prey upon. Food and garbage will also attract bears, another unwanted guest.
Install outdoor lighting to keep the house perimeter well-lit at night — especially along walkways — to keep any approaching mountain lions visible.
• If practical, secure livestock in enclosed sheds or barns at night.
• Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors, particularly in early morning and evening hours. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
While there is no response to a mountain lion that can guarantee a person’s safety, Fish and Game offered the followiing tips on its website:
• Do not run. Stay calm and keep eye contact. Move slowly and try to back away. Running away may trigger the animal’s instinct to chase.
• Remain in an upright position. Do not crouch down as mountain lions are more likely to go after shorter prey. Do what you can to appear large by raising and waving your arms or opening your jacket. Yell in a loud, firm voice.
• Never turn your back on a mountain lion. Always maintain eye contact and face the lion. Convince the lion that you are not a deer, which is the lion’s chief prey.
• When you walk or hike in lion country, go in groups and make enough noise to avoid surprising a lion. While lions are not likely to approach humans, they are even less likely to approach a more threatening larger group.
• Keep children close and in sight at all times. Pick small children up if a lion is near.
• Never approach a mountain lion. Give the lion a way out of a close situation.
• If a lion behaves aggressively, arm yourself with a large stick, rock, or other object and face the lion. In the extreme case that a mountain lion attacks, remain standing and fight back with whatever object you have.
• Pepper spray is very effective in deterring a mountain lion and other carnivore attacks.
• If you encounter a mountain lion, immediately notify Fish and Game or Bonner Dispatch. An encounter would include a lion demonstrating any unnatural behavior, such as showing no concern or reaction to the presence of people, or acting aggressively toward people or pets.
To report a sighting, call Bonner Dispatch at 208-265-5525.
Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.