A mountain lion attacked an eight-year-old boy in Colorado on Wednesday, bringing the total attacks in that state to three this year – the most Colorado has seen since 1998.
The boy was running to a nearby neighbor’s house in Bailey, Colorado, when the mountain lion attacked, biting down on his head, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He survived, but spent the night in the hospital. Two mountain lions were later euthanized nearby after reports of a missing goat, and DNA tests in Wyoming will confirm whether either was involved in the attack.
This is part of a challenging trend: Human development is growing across the Mountain West while mountain lion populations rebound.
“[Mountain lions] used to be the most broadly-distributed mammal in North America and through development, those populations were greatly reduced, pretty much gone anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains,” said Mat Alldredge, a carnivore researcher for the state of Colorado. “Until we started managing them in 1965 for Colorado, and I would say at that time our lion population started to increase.”
Alldredge said even with the population increases and human encroachment, mountain lion attacks are still extremely rare because most fear humans. There are so few that do attack, he said, it’s hard to even find a motive behind mountain lion attacks as a whole.
“Even with three [attacks] in Colorado this year, it’s still a rare event and probably a factor of each individual lion and circumstances,” he said.
Still, Alldredge said that while any attacks on humans are rare, children are closer to lions’ general prey size and are more likely to be attacked. The boy involved in the Bailey attack was also running, which sets off a predatory response.
“It’s just like your house cat. They respond to fast movements,” he said. “Their instinct is to chase and pounce on things.”
Alldredge said that those who want to be cautious in mountain lion country should keep an eye on young children when playing outside and can “manipulate the habitat around your home so you don’t have prey items in your yard, and you don’t have hiding cover for lions. And put some motion sense light out on the periphery of your yard.”
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, mountain lions have killed three people in the state since 1990. There have been no reported human deaths from mountain lions in Idaho or Wyoming, but there were at least three attacks in Idaho and one in Wyoming.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.