Police came to the door of Kim Nelson to tell her something astonishing.
A mountain lion had been in her backyard, hiding under her pool.
“I had no idea,” she said. “He was so quiet.”
That doesn’t surprise Todd Buckley, with North Dakota Game and Fish.
“The odds of seeing a mountain lion are really low,” he said. “They are nocturnal, and highly secretive. They are more active at night. Like house cats, they do their hunting at night.”
Buckley confirmed the big cat spotted in the northeastern part of Williston on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 7, was indeed a mountain lion. A rare sighting by the public, to be sure — but not unheard of from time to time.
“If I had to guess, I would say it was a sub-adult male traveling through, looking to set up a new territory,” Buckley said. “They get kicked out of the core area by adult males.”
Core habitat for mountain lions in North Dakota includes areas along the Little Missouri River in McKenzie and Dunn counties, he added, about 40 to 60 miles away.
“Fifty miles is really not very far for a cat to make a loop through,” he said.
Residents finding a mountain lion in their backyard should not attempt to approach it or, for that matter, any other wild animal, Buckley said.
“They all can be dangerous to a certain degree,” he said. “It's unlikely to set up a territory near town. He’s probably just passing through.”
If there is any concern about big cats being in an area, hours of play for small children and pets should be limited to daylight hours.
In the unlikely event an individual happens to be confronted by a big cat out of doors, experts suggest the best thing to do is raise your hands up and make a lot of noise, to try to appear as large and scary as possible. If you are with a small child, pick up the child. That will not only help protect the child, but help make you appear larger and thus stronger.
Don’t turn your back, crouch down, or try to run away from a mountain lion, but do back away slowly, if you can.
“They are more scared of us than we are of them,” Buckley said. “So make some noise and back away.”
Buckley added that initial reports were that two small dogs had run the mountain lion up a tree.
“It’s first instinct was to go up into a tree to get away,” Buckley said. “So the odds of it confronting a human, which is much larger than a small dog, are very small.”
The mountain lion was followed by Game and Fish officials to the Little Muddy on the northeast edge of town.
“There have been no reports since then, so I would imagine the cat has moved on,” Buckley said.
Mountain lions are unique animals to North Dakota, he added, and shouldn’t be viewed as “scary.”
“There doesn’t need to be mass hysteria because someone saw a mountain lion,” he said. “We are living on their turf, too.”