POCATELLO — When Zachariah Rollins’ 11-year-old son Bran said there was a mountain lion in a nearby cottonwood tree, nobody believed him at first.
“He likes to play tricks on his parents,” Zachariah laughs.
Zachariah, Bran and other members of the Rollins family were walking on Hilo Drive in south Pocatello on Sunday evening at approximately 7 p.m., and their dog even started lunging toward the tree. When they all looked up, they realized Bran wasn’t joking.
Nestled within the tree’s branches about 30 feet off the ground was a mountain lion, and according to Zachariah, the big cat seemed shy and was staying perfectly still.
“I think we might have startled it and it jumped in the tree,” he said.
According to both Zachariah and officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the encounter on Sunday was just one of numerous sightings in the Pocatello area during the past year.
A few weeks ago, residents reported a mountain lion near Cedar Lake Road. In December, an adult male cougar mauled a pet dog to death on Buckskin Road. Fish and Game officers later located the lion and the animal was euthanized.
Last winter, Fish and Game relocated a mama cat and her four kittens after they made themselves at home among the human residents of the Johnny Creek area.
According to Jennifer Jackson, regional conservation educator with Idaho Fish and Game, wildlife officials will relocate a mountain lion if it is causing conflicts with humans. However, in the case of the recent sightings on Hilo Drive and Cedar Lake Drive, Fish and Game did not take any action.
Jackson said that any residents who encounter a mountain lion near their property can contact Idaho Fish and Game. For more information on mountain lions, visit idfg.idaho.gov.
However, she also said that living side-by-side with wildlife is a part of life in many areas in and around Pocatello, particularly in the south side of town.
“We’ve been living with mountain lions in the Johnny Creek area for decades, and we will continue living with them for decades to come,” Jackson said. “It’s what happens when we share the same habitat.”
But despite so many encounters with mountain lions, Jackson said there have only been three mountain lion attacks on humans in Idaho since 1990. None of these attacks were fatal.
One attack occurred near the Salmon River and another occurred in the southwestern part of the state.
The third attack made national headlines in 2016 when a lion attempted to drag a 4-year-old Blackfoot girl away during a family get-together near Rexburg. The girl survived the attack with minor injuries.
For the Rollins family on Sunday night, the mountain lion did not seem to present itself as a threat. After a neighbor shined a light at the cat, Zachariah was able to snap a photo. Soon afterward, the cat jumped from the tree and ran off into the darkness of night.
Zachariah said his mother-in-law and father-in-law are visiting from Texas, and he’s glad they were able to catch a glimpse of a cougar. Zachariah lives in the Johnny Creek area and he said he’s seen deer, moose, hawks, owls and coyotes. The mountain lion was another item to cross off on his wildlife-sighting checklist.
“It was really cool to see,” he said. “I’ve never seen a mountain lion in the wild before.”