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Mountain Lion Traps Set to Remove Lions That Have Made Themselves at Home
Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Idaho Fish and Game officers set out three live traps in the Hailey area this week to protect humans and dogs from mountain lions that they say have become way too comfortable living in the hood.

In one case, a Hailey woman walked out her door to find herself face-to-face with a lion that was munching a deer it had killed in her front yard. The lion did not back off but growled and acted aggressively, forcing the woman back into her home.

“It was pretty clear the lion did not want her to be there,” said Terry Thompson, regional communications manager for Idaho Fish and Game in the Magic Valley Region. “We have not had any attacks on people in Idaho yet. But a man was just attacked while sitting in a hot tub at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort in Colorado. A jogger in Oregon was killed by one and a 9-year-old girl was attacked by a lion at a campground north of Spokane in May 2022. While attacks on people are rare, there is the potential for bad outcomes.”

Idaho Fish and Game has received more than 85 mountain lion sightings ranging from Ketchum’s Warm Springs neighborhood to Bellevue since October 2022. The majority of those calls have come from Hailey residents, although a Ketchum woman posted a TikTok video of four mountain lions hanging out around her jacuzzi. There have been several non-fatal attacks on dogs.

The number of mountain lion sightings in east Hailey began to increase in early March with at least one female and her young frequenting area homes, often during daylight hours. They were sighted lounging  in trees and day-bedding in yards.

Conservation officers attempted to haze the lions with non-lethal ammo such as rubber slugs and buckshot, aerial cracker shells and pepper balls shot from an air rifle. And they removed numerous lion-killed deer and elk from neighborhood yards to reduce the chances of someone surprising a lion protecting its food source.

But the lions continued to hang around.

In early March Fish and Game received a report of a female lion with young continually moving around a home in east Hailey. They worked with the homeowners to reduce the potential for the lions to day-bed near the residence.

After repeated efforts to haze the lions, Fish and Game decided to trap and remove the lions. With the permission of homeowners, they placed three large live traps adjacent to two houses where the lions were frequenting on Thursday, March 16.

They baited the cages, which are 3 feet tall, 6 feet long and 2.5 feet wide, with a quarter of road kill deer that they hung in the back end of the cage. When the lion goes for the food, they step on a pad that triggers the release mechanism shutting the door.

Biologists found one of the young lions trapped the next day. But the adult female and second young lion were nowhere to be found.

Fish and Game officials tried to identify places that would accept young lions, such as an accredited zoo, in anticipation of the trapping. But when no suitable location was found, they euthanized the lion with a firearm.

It was the first lion they have euthanized since January 2020 when a large male lion was euthanized as it ran through the streets of Hailey’s Woodside neighborhood as school children were being released from the elementary school.

Officers had tried to chase the lion away with rubber slugs but it refused to leave and began to exhibit increasing levels of aggression. Another mountain lion was euthanized in December 2019 after it killed two dogs on the same morning in the Warm Springs neighborhood of Ketchum. Still another was euthanized in January 2019 after it killed a dog in the Warm Springs area.

“Putting an animal down is never what we like to do.  If you’re ever with staff when they have to put down an animal, it’s painful and traumatic. But we’re trying to keep people and pets safe,” said Thompson.

Relocating lions is not an option, in part because the lions can return to the site they were removed, Thompson said.

“Lions are territorial so if you put them in good habitat there’s already a lion there and one of the two are going to die. If it’s not good habitat, there’s no food and they’re going to die of starvation. We’ve debated whether to use drugs or firearms—firearms are a quicker way of doing what we need to do.”

Thompson said Fish and Game doesn’t know how many mountain lions currently reside in the Wood River Valley since it doesn’t actively count them. There seem to be multiple families with kittens right now, as lions can have kittens year-round.

“When we extrapolate the sightings, they’re throughout the valley. There seems to be a healthy population, as there’s a lot of food in the valley due to the elk and deer. And they’re becoming very comfortable around houses—they’re not interested in leaving so the probability of a surprise encounter while they’re protecting food sources is becoming greater and greater,” Thompson said.

Many people mistakenly think lions hang around the valley only in winter when deep snows bring many elk and deer out of the hills.

“But because we have a resident population of elk and deer in the valley year-round, we have lions year-round,” Thompson said. “Deep snow does makes prey more accessible, and we haven’t had snow this deep since 2016/17. But that’s why we discourage people from feeding deer and elk—it’s like setting a dinner table for lions when you concentrate game.”

DID YOU KNOW? There have been seven fatal attacks by lions in the United States in the past 30 years. One killed a mountain biker in 2018 near North Bend, Wash. Three other deaths took place in California and there was one each in Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon.

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