When a mountain lion comes to Santa Fe, everyone pays attention. The Santa Fe New Mexican put related stories above the fold twice; SFR created the lion’s Twitter account. We caught up with Department of Game and Fish Northwest Area Assistant Chief Robert Livingston March 17. That day, he’d caught up with the now-infamous 150-pound downtown mountain lion, who’d been scared up a tree by dogs at a residence near Siringo Road. On his way to release the lion in Carson National Forest, Livingston chatted with SFR by phone from the Cottonwood Animal Clinic in Rio Rancho, where the lion was treated for a wound it got from hopping fences in suburbia.
SFR: You had to tranquilize it; how much did it take?
RL: Two darts.
What would that do to a human?
Make you go to sleep too—I couldn’t tell you; I’m not a doctor. We have to receive special training to use these drugs.
Could the lion have hurt a human?
Potentially. Lion attacks are rare but they do occur. It’s occurred in California where they’ve attacked some joggers. It’s very rare in New Mexico. Humans are not their preferred prey; mule deer are. Once they figure out you’re not a mule deer, they don’t prey on humans.
Did the lion take the Rail Trail from where it was first spotted downtown to avoid Cerrillos Road?
Don’t know how it got there. We found it today three miles south of where we spotted it yesterday.
Isn’t Santa Fe its real home?
The lion’s natural habitat is in the forest. But for some reason it ended up in the City of Santa Fe and, of course, for public safety we needed to remove it. Of course, humans do build houses within the wildlife’s habitat, but usually once we build a big city, wildlife is either removed or it moves. Downtown Santa Fe is not mountain lion habitat. It used to be 400 years ago, but it’s not now.
Ever feel bad having to displace these animals?
No, because we do that for the safety of the animal. If the lion stayed in Santa Fe, there’s a very good chance it’d get in trouble: hit by a car, a concerned citizen might shoot it. For the good of the public and the good of the animal, we have to move it. Of course there’s trauma when you capture an animal but, in the long run, it’s much better for it to be captured and relocated than for it to get hit by a car or for us to have to destroy it. If it was eating people’s dogs and cats, we’d have to destroy it.
So if this lion had eaten a domestic animal, it would have to die?
Potentially, yes. We have a rule: Whenever they kill domestic livestock, we have to put them down. But we don’t think this lion did anything wrong. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How often do we get mountain lions downtown?
In the last three years, we’ve had typically one lion per year come to Santa Fe.
Do mountain lions ever try to return to where you found them?
It’s been known for them to. We do know of a lion we relocated and it returned to its home range. We’re gonna take this one very far away where there’s lots of food and, hopefully, it won’t try to return.
Which would you prefer to fight off with your bare hands: a 150-pound mountain lion or a 150-pound rabid dog?
A lion, you bet. A rabid dog’s crazy; a lion’s just afraid of you.