South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks (SDGFP) wardens made the right decision Wednesday when they decided that a treed, six-month old, 42 lb. mountain lion kitten was not a threat to humans and decided to tranquilize and relocate the animal instead of complying with the Department's zero-tolerance policy of lethal removal.
The young male lion, who was first spotted by a Spearfish couple enjoying an early morning cup of coffee on their deck, apparently had been treed by a dog sometime before and believed that it was safe and unseen high in its aerial perch.
According to SDGFP Game Warden Mike Apland, a 23-year veteran with the Department, "It was just hanging out, thinking it was concealed there."
Apland, who usually responds to three or four mountain lion sightings annually, said that he usually has only two options: "remove the lion or put it down."
"Our primary concern is always public safety," he said. "There weren't really any other residences in the immediate area and the lion wasn't showing any aggressive behavior."
After surveying the scene, Apland said he contacted a state biologist and requested he come to Spearfish with a tranquilizer gun.
"The lion was darted, and we waited six to seven minutes for the drug to take effect, and it did," Apland said. "Then we removed the lion from the tree. He was sleeping soundly by then."
Apland and the biologist loaded the slumbering lion kitten into the back of the warden's truck and took him several miles away to a wooded area.
"Everything went extremely well," Apland said. "Once we do relocate, we stay on scene and make sure they are up and awake before we leave. Smaller cats come out of the drugs fairly quickly. About a half hour after relocation, this cat didn't want to be around us anymore. Hopefully, this ingrains in him the attitude that they don't want to be near humans or any residential area."
No one has yet explained exactly why a six-month old mountain lion kitten would apparently be out on its own, but chances are fairly good that it's an orphan struggling to survive who wandered too close to humans.