After mountain lion report, Valley Center students kept indoors

Students return from recess at West Elementary School in Valley Center on May 8, 2015.
Students return from recess at West Elementary School in Valley Center on May 8, 2015. File photo

Students at Valley Center’s West Elementary School were kept indoors for recess Wednesday after a report of a mountain lion in a wooded area behind the school, officials said.

The Valley Center police chief came to the school at about 10 a.m. to notify school officials of the report, West principal Pete Bastian said.

An employee of a rehab facility near the school reported what was possibly a mountain lion walking into the wooded wetland near the school.

Bastian said he immediately decided recess would not be outdoors “as a precaution.”

Police officers walked the woods and found no evidence of a mountain lion. When students asked why they weren’t allowed to go outside for recess, he told them “it’s too wet outside” from early morning rains.

Wednesday’s report of a possible mountain lion comes on the heels of a similar report on Tuesday, officials said. When he heard about the initial reports on Tuesday evening, Bastian said, “I immediately thought those woods would be a perfect place for it to go.”

But wildlife officials around Kansas greeted reports of the possible mountain lion with skepticism.

“I think the risk of mountain lion attack in Kansas is very, very low, almost non-existent, particularly in something like a school situation,” said Charlie Lee, Kansas State University extension service wildlife biologist, who has been investigating reports of mountain lions for more than 20 years. “But it’s very difficult to assign risk to other people and children.”

Research generally shows mountain lions avoid areas with people, Lee said.

“There are real threats, and there are perceived threats,” he said. “If we had evidence there could be an attack it would be real. Right now, there’s not any evidence.”

In an interview earlier this month, Matt Peek, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism furbearer biologist, said after more than 100 years with no verified accounts, Kansas’ first mountain lion in modern times was shot by a landowner near Medicine Lodge in 2007.

Last month, a bowhunter got the image of a mountain lion from a trail camera in Rawlins County. Peek said that makes 16 verifications, though there were probably multiple photos of sightings of the same mountain lion as it moves across Kansas.

Peek said most Kansas mountain lions have been transient animals moving across the state. Many have been documented by motion-detecting cameras placed by deer hunters. So far, no camera has gotten more repeat photos in the following days and and weeks.

John Kanta, a South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks biologist, said there has never been a mountain lion attack on people in the Black Hills, even with several million visitors per year and a population of up to 300 mountain lions in recent years. Kanta did say Black Hills mountain lions have killed pets and small livestock, like sheep and goats.

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