Editorial: Killing of lion raises questions
A 2- to 3-year-old mountain lion was killed in Prescott on Wednesday, and the resulting questions are coming fast and furious.
One Prescott resident was surprised, to put it mildly, to find the lion in her backyard to start her morning. She twice did the right thing - she called wildlife authorities, and she took a picture of it from a safe distance.
After that, things turned deadly for the animal.
Game & Fish officials surrounded a tree that the lion had climbed on a local golf course. After hitting the animal twice with tranquilizer darts to neutralize it, Game & Fish officials later drove the animal out of town and killed it.
Online Courier readers spent much of Thursday questioning the need for lethal action against the lion. According to witnesses, this lion exhibited nonaggressive behaviors deemed "acceptable" under the Game & Fish Operating Manual's section on wildlife, including retreating at the sight of a human and showing signs of curiosity while humans show no aggression.
As for relocating wild lions it traps, Game & Fish policy action states: "Consideration was given to trapping and relocating problem lions; however, due to their large home ranges, the fact that all suitable habitat is occupied, and intraspecific defense of occupied habitat, this option will not be used."
Game & Fish has mapped mountain lion distribution to include 62,000 square miles of occupied habitat, of which 10,700 square miles are classified as high-quality habitat where lions are considered abundant. The thought, according to Game & Fish, is that lions are so territorial that releasing one would ultimately be a death sentence for a lion like the one captured Wednesday in Prescott.
Certainly there are many factors in play here. No. 1: Safety. When wildlife meets a residential area, safety for the people is paramount. No. 2: Liability. If the agency does not respond to a wildlife sighting in a residential area and an attack occurs, or if they capture and release, and the animal later attacks, Game & Fish would get sued faster than a scared lion scales a tree. And No. 3: There are varying circumstances in each instance, including different animals, different behaviors, different locations, etc., making it hard for any of us to Monday morning-quarterback the decisions officials make in the field.
Ultimately, we see reintroducing a tranquilized animal into the wild as allowing nature to take its rightful course, especially if we, as humans, build the kinds of areas (like golf courses) full of enough soft grass, water, and rabbits and quail to attract them.
Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott can only take in so many animals. They get three to five calls per day from April through October with housing requests for wayward wildlife.
But killing a healthy 2- to 3-year-old trapped lion that lost its way cannot be the best solution.