We live in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains. While walking their dogs or hiking nearby, many of our neighbors have seen, if not the actual big cat, then its impressive paw prints in the sand or mud.
And while most of us have hiked Sabino Canyon, a relative few claim to have actually seen one of its resident Mountain Lions, although we all know they are there. The problem is quite simple. If a Mountain Lion doesn’t want you to see it, chances are you won’t.
Masters of ambush, these magnificent predators can bring down prey much larger than themselves, including moose, big horn sheep and … humans. Adult females can weigh 140 pounds; the males 220. An adult mountain lion in good health can run 40-50 MPH; leap 18 feet vertically and 45 feet horizontally. And they kill with amazing efficiency. Of those mountain lion attacks on humans that I am aware of, a pattern emerges. The human tried to run. Within seconds, said human had her skull crushed by powerful jaws and dagger-like fangs.
If you think rattlesnakes are dangerous, ….
On SouthernArizonaGuide.com we have more than 50 original videos about some of the most interesting people and places in Southern Arizona. One shows a naturalist talking about the wonders of Sabino Canyon. Toward the end, he explains how to keep from becoming a mountain lion’s dinner.
“Here Kitty, Kitty.”
I mention all this because we have a new Mountain Lion in our midst. He doesn’t yet have a name, so I will just refer to him as Kitty. When he grows up, he will be an awesome killing machine. But, unlike his cousins in the wild, we will not fear him. We’ll even encourage our young children or grandchildren to get within a few feet of him.
Kitty had been abandoned and was rescued by California Fish & Wildlife when he was about 2 months old and weighed 15 pounds. Three months later, after a lot of highly specialized care, he weighs 50 pounds and has assumed the honored position of resident male mountain lion of our Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
By tradition, all of the Desert Museum’s male lions have been named George L. Mountainlion. Of course, the original George L. is long deceased, but we have had the privilege of knowing the brother & sister residents these past many years. That George L. and his sister were recently retired. Like old humans, both suffer from arthritis and needed a home that requires less agility. Both have now surpassed the typical lifespan of mountain lions in the wild: 13 years.
One interesting fact I learned on a recent Behind-The-Scenes tour of our Desert Museum is that all of the animals they acquire are guaranteed cradle-to-grave care. When they become too old to exhibit, they are transferred to a special retirement home on the DM’s property to live out their lives in comfort and security. Talk about entitlements!
Kitty made his public debut yesterday (May 20, 2013) and the media, me included, were invited to record the event. Watch a short video.
The experts at the Desert Museum have been working these past many weeks to habituate him to humanoids, but he’s clearly still shy and elusive. Except during infrequent breeding episodes, these are solitary creatures. So Kitty will have the entire enclosure to himself. (Which raises the question: will Kitty’s handlers permit the occasional conjugal visitation when he matures? It seems only right, at least from a male perspective.)
According to his handlers, his favorite food is goat milk. His favorite activity: chasing rock squirrels and lazing in the shade. When I saw him, his favorite pastime seemed to be hiding behind a big rock.
Name This Lion
All of this actually leads somewhere. Since the current George L. Mountainlion is still living in comfortable retirement, Kitty needs a permanent name, and it can’t be George L. Thus, the staff of the Desert Museum created a “NAMING” contest.
If the name you submit is picked by the DMMLNC (Desert Museum Mountain Lion Naming Committee), you will win a personalized gift from the Mountain Lion Club and a complimentary annual family membership to the Desert Museum. Entry forms can be found at the Desert Museum’s website. Deadline for entries is 11:59 PM on June 21st. The top finalists will be invited to a special celebration on July 6th when the winning name will be announced. One thing of which I am fairly certain; the winning name won’t be “KITTY”.