By Thomas Garcia PNT Staff Writer
Large predators, such as mountain lions, are moving from the mountains into the grassland and plains areas, according to New Mexico Game and Fish Department officials.
A horse mauling this month offers evidence that the cats may be prowling eastern New Mexico.
While there has been no reported sightings in the eastern New Mexico area, there has been an increase of large cats — mountain lions and jaguars — moving into the grasslands across the state, said Rick Winslow a large carnivore and furbearing biologist with the Game and Fish department.
“There has been an increase in the population of large cats since 1970,” Winslow said. “When there is a large number of cats in the mountains they will disperse into other areas.”
Typically the younger males are the ones that move into new areas, Winslow said.
These large cats may have been in this area before but moved out because there was no food source, Winslow said.
They are moving into areas where new prey such as livestock has been introduced and they will attack a small calf, Winslow said.
“We have created changes which has affected their habitats and food sources,” Winslow said.
“There is plenty of wildlife for mountain lions to feed on but they will go after an easy meal if they come across it,” Conservation officer Nathan Romeo said.
The natural rugged terrain of New Mexico has provided an abundant habitat for mountain lions, said wildlife author Susan J. Tweit, in an online article.
In the article Tweit said, that a mountain lion could hunt in an area of 40 to 80 square miles.
Romeo investigated a possible mountain lion attack on a horse earlier this month in Roosevelt County.
The attack occurred July 8 at a residence between Portales and Clovis, according to Romeo. He said he observed scratches on the hind quarters of a horse that could have been made by a younger, inexperienced mountain lion.
“The wounds are similar to the type that would have been made by a mountain lion trying to flank the animal,” Romeo said.
Mountain lions are in this area, they just have not been seen a lot,” Romeo said.
There have been no confirmed sightings of mountain lions in Curry or Roosevelt counties in the past two years, said NMGF spokesman Mark Madsen.
These animals are legal to hunt, and there is an open season on them annually from Oct. 1-March 31. They are open to hunting year round on private property, Winslow said.
People need a license to hunt these large cats, and they should check the specific seasons listed in the 2008-2009 Big Game Proclamation, a New Mexico Game and Fish publication, Winslow said
Mountain Lion Safety
• When it comes to personal safety, always be aware of your surroundings, wherever you are; conduct yourself and attend to children and dependents accordingly.
• Landscape for safety. Remove vegetation that provides cover for cougars. Remove plants that attract wildlife (deer, raccoons, etc.). By attracting them you naturally attract their predator—the cougar.
• Don’t feed wildlife. Don’t leave pet food outside. Both may attract cougars by attracting their natural prey.
• Keep pets secure. Roaming pets are easy prey for cougars.
• Confine and secure any livestock (especially at night) in pens, sheds, and barns.
• Don’t approach a cougar. Most cougars want to avoid humans. Give a cougar the time and space to steer clear of you.
• Supervise children, especially outdoors between dusk and dawn. Educate them about cougars and other wildlife they might encounter.
• Never run past or from a cougar. This may trigger their instinct to chase. Make eye contact. Stand your ground. Pick up small children without, if possible, turning away or bending over.
• Never bend over or crouch down. Doing so causes humans to resemble four-legged prey animals. Crouching down or bending over also makes the neck and back of the head vulnerable.
• If you encounter a cougar, make yourself appear larger, more aggressive. Open your jacket, raise your arms, throw stones, branches, etc., without turning away. Wave raised arms slowly, and speak slowly, firmly, loudly to disrupt and discourage predatory behavior.