Mountain lion spotted, trapped in Shell

by nathan oster

A mountain lion made a surprise visit to Shell last week, killing a domestic cat and “showing no fear whatsoever” of humans before being trapped and hauled away by Wyoming Game and Fish Department personnel.

“He didn’t pay any attention to us at all,” said Glen Leavitt, a longtime resident of Shell.

The same could not be said of one of their cats, which he described as “our best one” and a real “mouser.” The mountain lion killed it, making it the only casualty of its swing through Shell.

“I know mountain lions are death on house cats … they hate them and they also eat them.”

Glen and his wife Lee, along with Lesa Goton who lives nearby, saw the most of the big cat.

Glen said that one point, it was 15 or 20 feet away from his wife. It never acted in a threatening manner, however. “He just walked right past us, back over to where that (dead) cat was,” said Glen, who believes the mountain lion grew up nearby.

Bill Robertson, the Greybull-based game warden for the Game and Fish Department, said he got the call notifying him of the mountain lion’s presence in Shell on Wednesday, Aug. 5. It didn’t take long for him to find the lion, which because it had not finished feeding on the dead cat, was in no hurry to leave the area.

Robertson eventually determined that the mountain lion was about a year old.

“More than likely, it was probably just learning how to hunt, had been relying on its mother for a year and just found a very easy food source (in the cat),” he said.

Robertson said he contacted the G&F’s trophy game conflict specialist on Wednesday.

That night at dusk, they placed a live trap, using the dead cat as bait.

By the next morning, the mountain lion was caged.

G&F personnel transported it to Dead Indian Pass in Clark’s Fork.

“It has a blue earring on it, so we’ll see if it shows up again,” said Robertson. “I doubt it, though. For a younger cat like that one, it has to figure out its territory. Young males have to roam. They look for a place not occupied by other lions because males will fight, just like other cats do.”

Robertson said the Leavitts and Goton were very cooperative. They were adamant, he said, that the lion be trapped and taken away, rather than killed. They got their wish, as the trapping effort proved successful.

“They removed distractions like their house pets, penning their dogs and housing their cats, so when the lion came back, it made trapping so much easier.”

Robertson said it’s not uncommon for mountain lions to show up in any riparian corridor, including along Shell Creek or the Big Horn River, and that he’s investigated sightings along Shell Creek just about every summer since his arrival in the area.

“The way Shell is situated, where several drainages coming off the mountain (Trapper, White, Horse and Shell creeks) and converging in that area, (seeing a mountain lion) is not something I find unusual.

“All communities like Ten Sleep, Hyattville and Shell should have well advanced notice that bears and lions can occur any time of the year.”

While that may be true, Glen Leavitt can’t recall the last time a mountain lion visited Shell — and his families roots in the area run deep.

“My grandmother lived here where I am now and I never heard hear or my uncle talk about seeing a mountain lion in Shell,” he said. “Dad talked about one time on Black Mountain — we used to have a range up there, on Battle Creek — he saw two of them. But on our sheep range, on Little Baldy, we never saw one up there. We saw a bear, but never a mountain lion.”

Glen admitted that it was an experience he doesn’t want to repeat. “Was I scared? Yeah, a little, just because he was so brave,” he said, describing the cat as being about 5 feet long with a 5-foot-long tail. “He wasn’t scared of anything.”

While he and his wife will miss their cat, “I’m thankful nobody got hurt.”