CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming Game and Fish Department staff members released a mountain lion family in an undisclosed location between Lander and Rawlins on Friday.
While the effort ended more than two weeks of work by Game and Fish officials to trap and release the mother and her three offspring that had made their home in the Jackson area, not everyone was happy with the result.
Members of Craighead Beringia South, a wildlife study institute, wanted the animals released into the outer edge of what is believed to be their territory in the Cache Creek area.
They also called for monitoring collars to make sure the cats didn’t return to residential areas. The institute’s research includes the Teton Cougar Project.
Lisa Rullman is development director with the Cougar Fund in Jackson. She supported Craighead Beringia South’s suggestion.
The mother mountain lion knows her territory, where to find prey and where she is safe, Rullman said.
“By moving them, they are essentially giving this cougar and her kittens a death sentence,” Rullman said.
Rullman thinks Game and Fish shouldn’t have tried to trap the animals in the first place. The cougars didn’t attack people or pets, Rullman said.
“She really did an excellent job living so close to us without being a bad cat,” she said.
Rullman said another mountain lion not as well behaved may take the mother’s place.
If the cats had to be trapped and moved, Rullman doesn’t understand why they weren’t collared so biologists know what happens to them.
Game and Fish gave each cat an ear tag as an identifier if any show up elsewhere.
But wildlife officials didn’t see a need to burden the animals with collars, Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said.
They aren’t part of a research project, and Game and Fish officials generally don’t collar animals they release, he said.
Rullman also asked Game and Fish officials for an emergency closure on mountain lion hunting in the area where the cats were released, since the family won’t know where to find prey or seek shelter.
The area where Game and Fish staff members released the mountain lions is open to hunting until March 31, or until the quota is filled, Gocke said. But the family is already protected because it is illegal to shoot a female lion with kittens, he said.
Emergency hunting closures call for an involved process through several channels, including up to the governor’s office, Gocke said. The situation didn’t justify an emergency closure, he said.
The cats’ new home is hard to access and no mountain lions have been killed in the area this season, Gocke said.
The mother and her three offspring were captured in the Cache Creek area after residents reported seeing the animals on private property and under cars Jan. 17.
It is believed an abundance of mule deer fed by residents drew the cats to the populated area, Gocke said.
On Jan. 23, after efforts to haze the animals away from populated areas failed, Game and Fish staff members attempted to trap the animals, capturing the mother the first night and the first kitten Jan. 25.
The final two kittens were caught Wednesday night.
The animals, all healthy, according to Game and Fish officials, were reunited at the Tom Thorne-Beth Williams Wildlife Research Facility near Wheatland before being release into an area with abundant mule deer and far from people, Gocke said.