Seeing a mountain lion in the wild had long been a “bucket list” item for Lincoln County resident Ruzena Rok, but when the opportunity finally came, it wasn’t in the way she’d expected.
On one recent morning, she stepped outside her house in the town of Star Valley Ranch with her French bulldog, Moose.
“He turned and started barking fiercely down the driveway. And French bulldogs aren’t a breed that barks very much,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
At first, she couldn’t see what had Moose so worked up, so she moved to get a better view.
“I took two steps forward and looked, and there was a mountain lion just looking at us,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Oh crap, the dog.’ So I got the dog and then the mountain lion just walked causally away across the road and into the woods.”
Thought The Big Cat Was Gone
Rok and her husband bought their house in Star Valley Ranch in 2009, and moved there permanently from Virgina in 2017. They’d always been avid hikers and all-around lovers of the outdoors, but had never had a chance to see any mountain lions.
She was thrilled to see one right outside her home, and she figured the mountain lion that had been in her driveway had just kept going into the adjacent national forest, not to be seen again.
But later, when her husband was driving home from an errand, he saw the mountain lion again and gave her a call.
“He told me, ‘The mountain lion is right in the middle of the road,’” Rok said.
Stashed Deer Carcass
After the second encounter, the couple began searching the perimeters of their property. In the brush about only 30 feet off to the side of their driveway they found a fresh deer carcass and surmised that it was probably a mountain lion kill.
So they set four cameras up around the site which, luckily enough, was also clearly visible from their bedroom window.
And they discovered that not one, but at least two mountain lions had claimed the carcass. It was apparently a mother and her nearly grown cub.
“Some of our neighbors reported possibly seeing three mountain lions, so she might have had two of her young with her, but we only ever saw two mountain lions,” Rok said. “We figured the juvenile was probably the one we’d first spotted in the driveway and the road.”
‘Put Your Dog On A Leash’
For the next few days, they enjoyed watching the mountain lions come in to feed on the carcass, then melt back away into the brush and trees.
“We could look out of our bedroom window and watch them without even using binoculars,” she said.
And all the while, the cameras captured video of the cats’ activity.
Rok said the juvenile mountain lion was “almost as big as his mother” and probably nearly ready to take off on its own.
“If he was on the deer carcass and she came in, he would back off and lay down. Almost like he was saying, ‘OK, Mommy, it’s your time now,’” Rok said.
Knowing that mountain lions aren’t fond of dogs, the couple kept a close eye on Moose.
One evening, they spotted a neighbor walking with his black Labrador retriever, which was off-leash.
“My husband told him, ‘Hey, you’d better put your dog on a leash, there’s mountain lions hanging around,’” she said.
It was indeed good advice. Last year in a rural Colorado town, mountain lions killed 15 dogs in 30 days.
Rok, who is a member of the local town council, sent out email alerts about the big cats and also tips from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department about staying safe in mountain lion country.
It should come as no surprise to see mountain lions near Star Valley Ranch because deer provide a great prey base for them there, Game and Fish biologist Gary Fralick told Cowboy State Daily.
The mountain lions that Rok caught video of were behaving normally, preying on deer and feeding off the carcass until they were finished with it, said Fralick. He also lives in Star Valley Ranch and is the Game and Fish wildlife biologist for the Thayne/Big Piney-La Barge region.
Star Valley Ranch has a town ordinance against feeding wildlife, and Game and Fish supports that, he said. Feeding deer could draw more of them close to humans, which in turn will pull mountain lions in.
A Mini Wildlife Documentary
After the mountain lions ate their fill of the deer carcass, they slipped away, and Rok said she’s seen no sign of them since.
She set about going through the video footage. She took some of the best of it, added music and other flare, producing what could be considered a mini wildlife documentary, “Five Days of Mountain Lions,” which she posted on her blog and shared with friends and family.
She hopes it conveys the same sense of wonder that she felt while observing the mountain lions.
“I put the mini film together as a way of trying to share the experience my husband and I had of witnessing the mountain lions doing what they do in their natural environment,” Rok said. “As the beginning of the video says, ‘They have always been here,’ and so, the visual component was a way to show how truly beautiful the event was.
“I feel so lucky to have seen them and am still truly a bit gobsmacked to have been fortunate enough to watch the lions for so many days in a row. I wish my daughter and grandchildren could have seen them too.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.