Elusive mountain lion keeps Westside schools on their toes

       On Nov. 8, two Westside elementaries (Buena Vista and Whittier) limited student outdoor activities because of a report of a mountain lion sighting around 21st and Kiowa streets.
       The cougar was never found, despite a search by the Department of Wildlife (DOW), and no students were endangered, according to reports.
       The incident points up one anomaly, however, which is the lack of a District 11 policy on handling such sightings. As it now stands, “schools are allowed to make their own decisions,” said district spokesperson Elaine Naleski.
       The result was that Buena Vista (at 1620 W. Bijou St.), the nearest school to the sighting, allowed its students to continue going outside that day - albeit for shorter times, in a confined area and with increased staff watchfulness, Principal Jade Amick said. Meanwhile, Whittier (2904 W. Kiowa St.), reportedly acting on a recommendation from a District 11 security officer, kept its students in, Principal Marlys Berg said. But Washington Elementary (924 W. Pikes Peak Ave.), only slightly farther away from the sighting than Whittier, was not contacted by the district at all, according to school staff. By the time unofficial word got to Washington, all the day's recesses were over.
       The good news is that mountain lions rarely attack humans, and if one had gone near a school and seen dozens of running and yelling kids at recess, it probably would have turned tail and ran, according to Michael Seraphin of the DOW. At the same time, “we don't want to be complacent,” he said, noting that such predator cats, which can grow to six feet long, pose a particular threat to small house pets. “Even a medium to large-size dog is no match for a mountain lion,” he said.
       With the Westside so close to the mountains, cougars are not that uncommon. The DOW gets regular calls about sightings. “We coexist right next to one another,” Seraphin said.
       He noted that DOW usually tells school administrators, “If you're at all concerned, keep the kids in.”
       A recent local example of pet attacks was last August, when residents off Columbia Road were menaced by a family of cougars, possibly coming out of the Garden of the Gods, which killed and ate several domestic cats. The lion that was sighted at 21st and Kiowa might even have been connected with that family, Seraphin said - not unreasonable in that the daily range of a mountain lion can be as much as 70 miles.
       Anyone spotting a mountain lion in town is asked to call the DOW at 227-5200.

Westside Pioneer article