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Living in Iowa: Mountain lions lurking near IC elementary playgrounds were just passing through
September 07, 2011 · Dan Brawner


In case there was any doubt, last Friday's visit by two mountain lions to Iowa City elementary schools reminds us we are not at the top of the food chain.

No, no children were eaten or carried off by lions to some remote lair to be raised as one of their own cubs (although I suspect a couple of the kids who sometimes eat at our house couldn't have picked up their table manners from humans). But students at Horn and Roosevelt elementary schools were kept inside for recess that day just in case. And this latest sighting makes it harder to deny that mountain lions, which were once indigenous to Iowa, are still with us.

As an agricultural state, Iowa has no law against shooting mountain lions and in the past six years, three have been killed. Before that, the last mountain lion shot in Iowa was in 1867 near Centerville. Most Iowans probably assume the predators no longer live here.

On Dec. 15, 2009, Ray Goebel of Cedar Rapids was hunting deer near Marengo when he saw something move in a tree. The 124-pound cat was relaxing on a limb, apparently oblivious to the gunshots from the other hunters in Goebel's party. Only 50 feet from the big carnivore, Goebel lined it up in his sights, fired ... and missed. (The lion was 10 feet, six inches closer than the distance from a pitcher's mound to home plate. Any high school pitcher who couldn't hit that size strike zone would be demoted to second string.) The cat was apparently unimpressed with Goebel's marksmanship because it didn't even bother to move. Sadly, the second shot found its mark, and the lion dropped to the ground.

Goebel, a native of Long Island, N.Y., took a lot of criticism for shooting a creature so seldom seen in Iowa. But he shook it off, arguing that the predator didn't belong in Iowa. "It's a mountain lion," he told the Des Moines Register. "I don't see any mountains." He explained, "I didn't just kill to kill. I'm eating the meat and having it stuffed."

If it had been given a sporting chance, sure the lion might have eaten Goebel, but I bet it would have spared him the indignity of getting stuffed.

Actually, mountain lions rarely attack humans. In the last 150 years, in the Western states where they are generally found, only 19 people were killed by the big cats. I wish I'd known that when I lived in Arizona. I was camping in the desert one night when I heard a rustling outside my tent. I shone my flashlight into the darkness and saw a wobbly little kitten stagger out from behind a creosote bush. I was thinking, what a cute kitty! Then suddenly its 100-pound mother appeared and let out a scream that left no doubt about who was in charge here.

I'm happy the mountain lion mom allowed me to live. And I feel sure the two lions spotted near the elementary schools were just passing through and not shopping for groceries. Still, if I'm ever walking in the park with my family and I see a big mountain lion - just as a warning, you understand - I intend to let out a big scream.

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