BIRDSEYE — The mountain lion’s first known llama kill occurred under the cover of darkness, on a Wednesday night in late February. By the time the 175-pound lion was shot and killed four nights later, six llamas were dead. The lion also is a suspect in two additional llama deaths.

It’s a case that puzzles Kraig Glazier, a federal agent who does predator control for Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“When they kill something like that, more often than not they eat part of it, but this

wasn’t eating any of them,” Glazier said. “Usually, the damage I see with livestock is it’s either a young juvenile delinquent seeing how to do it; or it’s a female teaching her young; or an old one going downhill looking for groceries.

“But this was a big healthy mature male lion and I have no idea why he made the kills.”

The assaults on the llamas started Feb. 22 at Perri and Jeff May’s house off Birdseye Road. She looked out the window of her log home on Thursday morning and saw that one of her four llamas was lying on the ground.

“She was right in front of our barn, in full view of the house, and I immediately knew she was gone,” Perri May said. “She was eviscerated; something had torn open her abdomen. I thought that maybe she got sick and laid down, passed away and perhaps a dog got into her.”

Then a second llama was found dead the next morning.

“Jeff called Fish, Wildlife and Parks, who immediately referred us to Kraig,” Perri May said. Wildlife Services handles possible livestock predation cases.

Glazier immediately knew a lion was responsible.

“Even though the tracking conditions were extremely poor, it was evident from the kill pattern and the little feeding pattern that it wasn’t a wolf but a mountain lion,” Glazier said. “This one was 20 yards from Birdseye Road and the lion had pulled the llama under the fence where there’s an old bus stop shelter where kids can wait for the bus.

“And sure enough, you could see where the llama ran and there were large puncture wounds under his throat. But the lion didn’t really feed on it. Maybe a car spooked him.”

The Mays had called their neighbor John Northey, who owns about two dozen llamas.

“That’s when I looked in my corrals and thought something was wrong,” Northey said. “I found that I had three of them down.”

They alerted additional neighbors. Perri May said they were torn about how to proceed.

“Kraig discussed it with Jeff, and he said we should kill the lion. Jeff’s immediate reaction was no,” Perri May said. “Then Kraig said it was just going to keep coming back.”

With two children ages 7 and 9, the Mays’ fears for the children’s safety outweighed their concerns about sharing the neighborhood with the lion.

“I’m an environmentalist, a conservationist who is respectful of Mother Earth and Montana’s native wildlife,” she said. “It was just awful, but there was an imminent threat to our children and our animals’ safety.”

Northey said he also had mixed emotions, but feared for the safety of renters on his property, including a 4-year-old boy.

“I was worried about the behavior pattern of the animal, since it wasn’t feeding on its kill,” Northey said. “I asked Kraig if it was dangerous, and he told me if I go down to my corral at night I’d better be packing iron. He said if the cat had killed something, it would defend the kill and take me down.”

It wasn’t a good area to use tracking dogs, so Glazier set traps for the big cat and installed motion detectors that could notify him remotely if something was at the May or Northey residence.

Then he got into the cab of his truck and waited.

Mountain lions usually are most active at dawn and dusk. By 1:30 a.m. Saturday, all was still quiet so Glazier went home.

When the Mays awoke Saturday morning, a third llama was dead.

“We were down to one and we were flipping out,” Perri May said. “I spent almost two hours trying to get a halter on her and she was totally wigged out. I walked her over to John’s, thinking that if she were left by herself she was completely vulnerable and maybe there’d be safety in numbers.”

The trap remained empty Saturday night, and all the llamas made it through the night. Glazier was questioning whether the lion would return, but left the traps in place.

He got a call from Jeff May about 9:15 p.m.

“He said he had a spotlight and could see eyes down by where the last llama was killed, but he didn’t know if it was the lion,” Glazier said. “I got out there, identified it and shot the lion from their deck. It was a really large one.”

Northey said the lion had dew claws the size of his pinky finger that were sharper than knives. Lions jump on their prey, hanging on with the dew claws, then use their jaws to crunch the head or trachea to make a kill.

For Northey and Perri May, the shooting left them with a sense of relief mixed with remorse.

“I love my llamas and raised them from babies,” Northey said. “Yet when I found myself down on the ground with it, I kept petting that damn cat. It was just a reflex action. It was absolutely beautiful.”

Wildlife managers are not surprised to see the mountain lions in the area, because Helena is prime mountain lion habitat. Usually they coexist with livestock without a problem, but when large predators prey on livestock, wildlife managers can remove them. If they are causing problems or are too comfortable around people, FWP game wardens usually handle those situations.

Dave Loewen, a game warden with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the agency hasn’t had a rash of mountain lion and human encounters, but oddly enough he shot and killed a mountain lion near the Blue Cloud subdivision the day after Glazier took the one near Birdseye. The lion shot by Loewen had killed two house cats.

“That one was in close proximity to the subdivision and near a school bus stop and where people collect their mail,” Loewen said. “But I think the two incidents were coincidental things that happened in a short period of time.”

Still, he adds that the same morning he removed the lion, FWP had a call from people saying they saw a lion in the South Hills of Helena near Gold Rush street.

Jenny Sika, a Helena-based FWP wildlife biologist, said she also thinks what some might see as an increase in mountain lion sightings also just might be coincidental, but she and other Region 3 biologists are gathering information to try to get a better perspective of what’s going on with the historically secretive predator.

“Mountain lions are hard to get numbers on,” Sika said. “The department is working on a modeling project … that will help us monitor lions on the landscape.”

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or eve.byron@helenair.com

Follow Eve on Twitter at IR_EveByron

(7) comments

steeline
steeline

I am glad these kills were not humans. Heads up while in the wilds.

fendermak
fendermak

We are the people at Blue Cloud that had the one lion shot. This lion had actually killed the largest of our house cats and at least 3 deer. This lion was VERY comfortable living close to the house and was in full view of our home, the gang mail boxes, and the walkers on the road. I totally understand the other people having mixed feelings of remorse and relief, as we felt this too. We wouldn't wish this lion dead, but he was spending time under our deck and had come around the house and kill our cat not even 10 feet from the front door. We have two dogs that go out into the yard that we learned was right in the lion's view. On the day of the shoot, the lion had come around the house in broad daylight, I believe to take down one of the dogs that I had just let outside to relieve themselves. It was one of the remaining house cats that clued me in to the danger so I was able to get the dogs back in safely, just as the lion came around the house where the dogs had just been. With the alert cat staring through the window at a spot just up the mountain, I finally was able to spot the lion's den through binoculars. It was most unnerving to realize this lion had been living so close for some time. We should have known we had a predator long before the house cat was taken, as the deer had quit coming through the yard a good 3-4 weeks earlier. And there were tell-tell tracks. A week later, we saw the first signs of peace as the deer have returned. The house pets and us are more alert but resting easier now. Please pay attention to your surroundings and learn what TO do and what NOT to do if you do encounter a lion . . . mt.gov has info under the Fish and Game's website.

steeline
steeline

Accoding to the environmentalists wild animals will leave when humans move into their territory. Subdivisions are supposed to move the wildlife out of the area. Lions only kill what they can eat. Well this story sorta tells the truth about wild life. I bet this makes the radicl anit's very upset to hear that their propaganda is just that. The operative word here is "adaptation". Animals on earth have been adapting since time started. But for your own safety I would carry bear spray while in the woods at least. There are other ways to deter an animal attack as well. Your call.

LCHelena
LCHelena

This seems to happen often with Lions and these biologists are always in shock. House cats kill for sport as do all cats. Its what they do. Bioligist and enviros always try to paint large predators as human like. These animals kill whatever they can get their fangs/claws into and it does not matter how healthy it is.

These are wild animals and they like to kill things!

Maybe this lion has watched and learned from the Wolves? Wolves kill thousands of Elk,deer and moose and leave them to rot.

Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon

LCHelena said: "This seems to happen often with Lions and these biologists are always in shock...Bioligist and enviros always try to paint large predators as human like."

LCHELENA paints with a very broad brush. Who are "these" biologists that are in shock? Not just "some" of them. And just who are these "enviros" you refer to who "always" try to so characterize big predators?

"Enviros" -- is that some kind of stereotyping word, like "nigras" for Black people, or "ragheads" for Arabs, etc.? And of course they "always" speak as you've indicated.

Use of stereotyping language does not often increase respect for the intelligence of persons doing the stereotyping. Just the opposite, in fact.

Richard Cecil Joyce Montana Tech
Richard Cecil Joyce Montana Tech

It sounds like the kill was the only responsible course of action. Not doing so would be inviting the tragedy of an attack on a child which would ultimately also cause immeasurable to lion populations.

Mtnmann
Mtnmann

Sorry Curmudgeon but LCHelena hit the nail on the head and like it or not he's 100% right!!

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