LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — In the 24 hours since a mountain lion showed up in a west Las Vegas neighborhood, lots of irate people have been asking: “Why did they have to kill it?”
“These animals are very agile. Very athletic. They can cover country very quickly," said Doug Nielsen with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Nielsen has nothing but respect for the abilities of a mountain lion. They’re are the biggest cats in North America and are apex predators, meaning they’re killing machines.
“They’re a big animal. They’re built to do one thing, and that’s to catch prey and eat it,” he said.
Game wardens aren’t built to kill, but when a big cat was loose in a local neighborhood, that’s exactly what they did. Reaction on social media was intense. People asked why they couldn’t trap it and release it back into the wild. Nielsen gets it, but says wardens have to balance the community’s safety against the cat’s predatory instincts.
“They're not something where you can predict their behavior. You have to take each situation and each second of the situation on its own merits,” he said.
Wildlife officials say there were attempts to tranquilize the cat they chased Monday, but it had no effect on it, which then led to a decision to euthanize. Nielsen says tranquilizers aren’t like bullets, and wardens have to use extreme precision.
“Can I affect that shot into the place where this animal happens to be? Is the wind blowing? If that wind is blowing enough to blow that dart off, then it may not be effective," Nielsen said.
The prolonged drought in the desert has made it more difficult for prey to survive with the lack of vegetation, Nielsen said, which can lead them to neighborhoods.
“If we have prey species, it’s not very long before the predators come looking, because there’s a food source," he said.
Nielsen says the best-case scenario would be to relocate the mountain lion back to the wild. The cats that consistently return to residential areas are likely used to humans. The mountain lion that was recently shot was ear-tagged, meaning it had been in those areas before.
Nielsen says movies or TV shows can create inaccurate perceptions of big cats, and mountain lions should not be compared to pet cats.
“This isn’t a cat that’s been sitting around eating little Friskies. This is a cat that’s been living in the wild, hunting for its living,” he said.
Wildlife officials encourage people, if they do see a mountain lion — whether it’s on their Ring doorbell camera or in their backyard — to not hesitate to call law enforcement.