PRESCOTT ¬ Halfway into a four-year study of Arizona mountain lions, the Arizona Game and Fish Department already is learning more about how these elusive creatures behave in urban areas such as Prescott.
People who attended an informational meeting in Prescott Friday heard preliminary details of the study, along with an update about lion activities in this region.
The agency conducted the meeting after hearing that some residents of the Ho-Kay-Gan subdivision on the northwest side of Prescott were alarmed about lion sightings in recent weeks.
Local wildlife managers have not found any evidence of lions in that area, but they have received only one call to follow up on.
Seeing a lion isn't enough to take action against a lion, especially in prime habitat such as Prescott, wildlife officials said.
They have received approximately 30 calls about lion sightings in the tri-city area during the past year, mostly on the west side of Prescott. These are unconfirmed sightings, they said, noting that a California study concluded that 80 percent of lion sightings weren't really lions.
In those cases, most of the animals actually were deer, cats, coyotes and dogs, said agency lion researcher Ted McKinney.
"They're king of the jungle," local wildlife officer Scott Poppenberger said. "They're a high-end predator in our area.
"Very few of us ever see lions, but they're among us more than we think."
The state agency has created a detailed protocol about what it should do when it receives calls about lions. Officials will take action only if a lion exhibits unacceptable behavior such as continuing to hang around high-use outdoor locations, or failing to retreat from humans acting aggressively against it. Each case has its own special circumstances, however.
Last year, wildlife officials killed a lion that was stalking people in the Granite Mountain Recreation Area just west of Prescott.
Currently, officials are keeping a close eye on the area where Prescott's Peavine Trail intersects with Prescott Valley's Iron King Trail, after three sightings of a lion near that high-use area, officials said.
Another lion has killed a couple of dogs in the Rancho Diamante area of Skull Valley, a resident said during Friday's meeting. Officials advised residents not to let their dogs run loose or stay outside overnight.
Nationwide between 1890 and 1990, lions attacked 52 people and killed nine, McKinney said.
Since then, as the human population expands, lion encounters have expanded, too.
Between 1991 and January 2007, lions attacked 99 people and killed 11 in the U.S.
Lions have never killed anyone in Arizona. They attacked two people between 1890 and 1990, then three people between 1991 and January 2007. The people tend to be children or the elderly.
People are more likely to die from attacks by bees or dogs, from lighting strikes, and from automobile accidents then by lion attacks McKinney said.
The four-year Arizona urban lion research project aims to find out whether lions move around differently in urban areas compared to wild areas.
So far, it seems the lions don't run off when humans move in, McKinney said.
The study involves capturing and collaring lions in the Prescott, Payson and Tucson regions.
Each collar contains a GPS device that allows researchers to plot a lion's location every seven hours for as long as two years, when the battery dies and a small explosive device detaches the collar.
If the collar is immobile for four hours, it emits a different signal, indicating the lion either died or lost its collar.