Mountain Lion Urine Sprinkled on Colorado Peak to Protect Goats From Humans

Researchers have turned to lion urine in an attempt to limit human interaction with wildlife, particularly bighorn sheep and mountain goats, at a popular tourist location in Colorado.

The animals are drawn down to the car park at Mount Evans by the presence of salt, which both mountain goats and bighorn sheep love to lick, 9News reported.

Interaction with humans can be harmful to the animals as well as the visitors admiring them, so researchers from Denver Zoo have been treating the car park, which sits at the foot of a long winding road, with urine from mountain lions as a passive form of discouragement for the animals.

The theory behind the plans is that the smell of urine from a large predator triggers a natural survival instinct in the goats and sheep, keeping them out of the parking lot.

Jess Harrington, an alpine field technician with Denver Zoo, works with bighorn sheep. She told 9News: "We're hoping that bringing that scent of the mountain lion urine up to where they're at in the summer, it'll stimulate that survival response, or that survival mechanism, and keep them away from those areas.

"Our conservation vehicle smelled like urine for probably about a week or two after we transported [it] up there."

The team, which sprays the parking lot each week, is monitoring the effect of the treatment on goats and sheep using game cameras and live observation. It's hoped the test will help in future wildlife operations.

"One of our keepers is working up [on Mount Evans], and she came up with a great idea to say, 'Hey, why don't we put mountain lion urine in the parking lot so that animals will perceive this to be a dangerous place and then won't try to go there?'" Denver Zoo conservation biologist, Stefan Ekernas, told 9News.

Dangerous Interaction

Increased human interaction can be dangerous for the animals in a number of ways. Not only can it reduce their natural fear of humans, but large gatherings of the animals could also help spread pneumonia, which bighorn sheep are particularly vulnerable to.

"We're potentially creating super-spreader events when we have animals coming in and congregating in these parking lots," Ekernas said. "That's what we're trying to solve."

Denver Zoo staff are also recommending that human visitors to the parking lot, who risk being bitten or injured by an aggressive animal, maintain a safe distance of 30 feet from the animals and don't feed them.

A new ticketing system is also being introduced to help control the number of people on Mount Evans, Colorado 99.9 KEKB reported.

Using lion urine as a deterrent for animals isn't as unusual as it may initially sound. Gardners have been using commercially available products that integrate lion urine and urine from other predators to deter animals from plants for some time.

"It turns out that mountain lion urine is commercially available. You can buy it on Amazon," Ekernas said. "It's been really great to work with keepers who have these out-of-the-box ideas and that might actually work."

Mountain Lion
A file photo of a crouching mountain lion. Keepers at Denver Zoo are experimenting with the use of mountain lion urine as a natural deterrent. joesephfotos/Getty