Sunday, August 18, 2013

Our Invisible Neighbors

Unfortunately, some of our well-intentioned neighbors like to feed the local wildlife, especially the numerous white-tailed deer. But in spite of all these deer, in the many years since we moved to the end of the road, we have never seen a mountain lion (Felis concolor) in the neighborhood. Not even a scat or muddy track. Even so, we are well aware that lions live here, too.

Just a few days ago, our dogs led us to mountain fresh lion sign not too far from our back door. The uneaten remains of a well-fed neighborhood doe lay mangled and buried under a blanket of dried grasses. The grass had been carefully raked up from around the deer so that only a couple of legs were visible. The doe laid just three feet away from a crushed bed of grass.

Cached deer carcass (c) John Ashley
Fresh lion-killed deer, covered in grass
Apparently, an adult lion surprised the deer on her day bed. The kill was quick, efficient. No sign of struggle in the surrounding vegetation. But for some reason, the lion cached its kill instead of feeding on it right away - a risky move in the wild. Why? Did this event occur in daylight? Too close to our human scent? We'll never know.

But we do know that the deer carcass dissappeared the next night. On the second day I followed intermittent drag marks halfway up the hillside before loosing the trail, headed for tree cover beyond the clearing. I walked the treeline but couldn't pick up any scents without help from our dogs.

By the third day, Ravens and a lone Turkey Vulture made their appearances. But we didn't try to follow them into the woods. Not that lions are a threat to adults - they typically are not. Rather, let the lions and birds benefit in peace from the unnaturally high deer population in our neighborhood.

If you choose to live in lion country, then an unseen lion is the well-behaved lion that you want to keep as a neighbor. If you "remove" a resident, territorial lion for acting like a lion, then another lion will almost certainly move into the vacated territory. And in this exchange, you run the risk of ending up with a new lion that may not be so reticent and secretive and well-behaved.

After all these years, we still have not met all of our neighbors - and that's a good sign.