Mountain lions visit scenic Jerome<br>More sightings of cougars reported

"I went outside to the back of my house and a mountain lion walked down from my back door with my cat in its mouth," he said. "I shouted and waved my arms, but it walked past me — only about 15 feet away, and kept walking. It didn't seem to be afraid of me at all."

Bouwman said that he is concerned about the cougar's seemingly cavalier behavior.

"I have a 3-year-old daughter, and a lion isn't a good thing to have in your backyard."

Bouwman said he had heard stories about sightings for about the last four months, but didn't worry about lions, until now. He met with Arizona Game and Fish officers hoping for immediate action, but he feels they are working too slowly, gathering data, doing interviews and investigations instead of trapping the lion.

"The mountain lion seems too comfortable around people," he said. "The Game and Fish officers didn't seem to think it was a serious problem."

Eric Gardner is a field supervisor with Arizona Game and Fish Department and works in Prescott. Jerome is in his jurisdiction; region 3. He said that officers had spent a lot of time in Jerome examining sighting reports and monitoring the behavior of the lion based on data.

"Officers have gathered a lot of information and we are weeding out duplicate reports and examining a reported kill site where pieces of a cat were found," he said. "But so far, lions in Jerome are not exhibiting any unusual behavior other than having dinner."

He feels confident that residents of Jerome have seen a cougar but he and his officers are still unable to document any unusual behavior. He said his office is in the process of verifying recent reports and making a distinction between those and others from the lion they were forced to remove last May.

"We are looking at recent reports and reports made when we took that last lion out of there. We are interested in continued information from the town of Jerome," he said.

Ivy Stearman has been a resident of Jerome for about 23 years. She said that incidents involving cougars have always been part of her life in the mountainside town. But like her neighbors, she too says that there has been a dramatic increase in sightings and reports of missing cats, so far totaling about 25 to 30.

"Its always been happening here but it is really out of hand now," she said. "We don't have coyotes around here and with more than 25 cats missing, it's really outlandish."

Stearman said that on Aug 8, she heard a lion's growl and later found pieces of her pet cat not 20 feet from her front door.

Stearman said that she believes that the lion is losing its fear of humans, and she thinks there is more than one lion on the prowl.

"The Fish and Game examined the pieces," she said. "There is a lot of people with similar stories."

Stearman said that she keeps her house closed up tight at night as she fears for the safety of her two children. "I hear kids outside in the evening and is scares the heck out of me."

She added that she is concerned more for the safety of Jerome's children than for its pets. Stearman is keeping a close eye on her kids and doesn't allow them outside at night.

"The Fish and Game officers told us to keep out cats inside," she added. "Like house arrest. Everybody with kids is scared out of our minds."

But cougars might not be all that is visiting Jerome for supper.

"Officers examined a reported kill site where someone's cat was killed and determined it was probably a coyote based on the kill site," Gardner said.

Police Chief Allen Muma said that there have been more sightings reported. One of the latest was on August 15 at 8 a.m. where a cougar was reported to be on the roof of a shed on Holly Street.

"Our concern is that this is unusual behavior for mountain lions and we are worried that the potential for a child attack is present," he said. "We are concerned for lion's safety but especially for the public's safety. It's our duty to protect the public first."

Muma said that with the number of sightings and animal kills being reported, his department has become concerned.

"A resident of town found a lion devouring his cat and he reported that it wouldn't leave when he shouted at it," he said. "When lions lose their fear of humans, it becomes a concern."

Muma continued that in his opinion, the lion or lions may not be exhibiting normal behavior and appear to be losing instinctive fear of humans.

Muma said that residents of Jerome want something done about the cougar raids.

He suggests that pets should be watched at night and the residents must be aware that cougars are in the region. If a person encounters a mountain lion, make loud vocal noises and try to appear to be as large as possible.

"Never run because it will trigger the predatory instinct to pursue," he advises. "If you are attacked, fight and keep fighting. Mountain lions don't attack for territory, but for prey so don't play dead — back away slowly. Walk or jog in groups and think safety."

Muma said that Arizona Game and Fish literature on mountain lion safety is available at the Jerome Police Department.

Muma speculated that javalina had been a problem in Jerome last year and that may have attracted mountain lions. "Now that the javalina are gone, they seem to be feeding on cats."

Still, the town's folk are weary about leaving their windows open at night and are on the lookout for big cats.

"My concern is that small children in town and even older kids are out later at night," Bouwman said. "If a kid wanders into a lion somewhere … we have to do something before someone gets mauled."

For more information on mountain lions, visit Arizona Game and Fish Department's Web site at www.azgfd.com.

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