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Mountain lions caught in north Douglas neighborhood

by Linda Hiller

Sandy Woodruff and Al Asti’s early morning routines went a little differently Friday – there were mountain lions in their Alpine View yards.

For the past few days, wildlife experts had been trying to trap the cougar (or cougars) that had been seen recently in this north Douglas County neighborhood.

“It started about four days ago when one of my neighbors saw some lions in her yard at night,” said Asti, who has lived on Bavarian Drive for 23 years and had never seen a mountain lion there. “The next day, we had a guy here with his lion-tracking dogs, and they caught a sick cub that had to be euthanized.”

After that capture, Nevada Division of Wildlife Biologist Carl Lackey asked Asti – the owner of Mountain Home Construction, who lives with his wife Jean – if a fresh deer kill from a neighbor’s yard could be moved near a pond on his 6-1/2 acre property to lure any remaining cougars in for live capture.

“I told him, ‘Be glad to, let’s catch ’em,'” Asti said. “Since the snow came, I knew it would be easier to track them. Before, they’d been walking in and out on the pavement, making it hard to track, but the snow is different.”

Sure enough, Friday morning before sunup, they got lucky.

n Sauntering lion. Woodruff, who recently retired from her Carson Valley chiropractic practice, was up for her normal morning routine … normal, except for spying the cougar on her deck.

“It was around 6 a.m., and I looked up and there was a mountain lion literally sauntering past my sliding glass door right up on my deck,” she said. “It was just six inches from the glass.”

Woodruff, who has never seen a cougar in Alpine View – only prints – said she wasn’t frightened at first.

“I think I was shocked, but I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “But then I thought, ‘Oh, look at that … a big cat … it’s like I’m at a wild animal park or something.'”

As she watched her feline visitor, Woodruff wondered why the mountain lion didn’t circle around the deck instead of climbing the stairs and coming so close to the house.

“She wasn’t too interested in me, though,” Woodruff said. “The silly girl didn’t even look at me.”

n The captures. As it turned out, Woodruff’s interloper was most likely full of mule deer meat, having feasted on the bait deer in Asti’s yard during the night. She and a smaller female were shortly spotted in Asti’s yard, where Sean Shea, 32, a fisheries biologist with the United States Geological Survey, came to help.

“I shined my flashlight in the yard and saw the lion’s eyeshine, so I went and got my dogs and turned them loose,” said Shea, a houndsman who owns and trains feline-tracking red tick dogs.

One of the cougars, a yearling female, immediately ran up a tree in Asti’s yard and the other, a larger female, headed out the open gate north to the hills with 11-year-old Moose, Shea’s best dog, running and bugling right behind her. A half-mile up the steep hill, Moose treed her and held her there, barking rhythmically for two hours.

Meanwhile, Shea, with the help of Jon Beckmann, a UNR doctoral student studying large carnivores in Nevada, tranquilized the first cat using a blowdart, capturing her easily after she fell out of the tree and staggered away to sleep.

The larger female, not necessarily the mother of the smaller cat, Shea said, was also tranquilized after a few tries.

Shea said the small female, who had an eye injury on closer examination, would be seen by a veterinarian and then released back into the wild, and the larger cat would be collared and released, also away from the neighborhood.

“Most of the time, people don’t see mountain lions,” Shea said. “They are nocturnal, secretive, and 99.9 percent of the time they want to be away from people and they’ll run.”

“But they’re all around Nevada,” Beckmann said. “We have a good population of lions here. This is a classic example of the urban/wildland interface. As we build into their habitats, humans and wildlife encounter each other more and more often. “

n Be careful out there. Woodruff said she enjoys hiking around Alpine View, but will stop her night walks and be cautious in the daytime.

“I enjoy hiking around here and would think that these mountain lions are too accustomed to this area not to come back here,” she said. “I used to walk at night – I love the stars – but will curtail that for a while.”

Sandy and Richard Leigh have lived next to Asti for 13 years and said they were aware of the recent mountain lion sightings, but weren’t paralyzed by them.

“I’ve never seen a mountain lion here, but they’ve probably seen me,” Sandy said. “We know that they’re out there.”

Asti said he hopes people living in deer and cougar ranges will take these three cougar capture incidents as a warning about encouraging deer to hang around neighborhoods.

“I’ve chased more than 100 deer out of my yard this winter,” Asti said. “I always chase them out – I call it spanking them – I throw rocks and really try to scare them away. We know the lions follow the deer, and it’s not healthy for the deer to be around people anyway. These are beautiful animals, but someday a child is going to get taken by a mountain lion – either here or in Genoa – people don’t realize that it’s not cute to have the deer in our yards. Keep them moving, I say.”