January 6, 2022 By Marion Vendituoli
Rory and Leisha George woke up to a horrific sight on Dec. 4 when they discovered that three of their goats had been killed the previous night. The Georges, who live near Papago Springs Rd. in Sonoita, have kept dairy goats, which Leisha milks and uses to make cheese, and pack goats for the past 25 years. This was the first time they had lost any of their animals to predation.
Even though the Georges then penned up their remaining goats close to their home, putting them in with a mule and a burro, that night another 17 goats were killed. “Leisha heard a ruckus that night, around 12:45” Rory said. He went out to check on the goats and “a lion walked in front of me maybe 20 feet away.” A neighbor also reported that they chased a lion off their property earlier that evening.
Only one of the goats showed signs of having been partially eaten. “There were ten babies with claw marks and puncture wounds. Goats were laying all over the place,“ Rory said. Both Rory and AZ Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Brit Oleson agreed that the panicked goats charging around may have caused the lion to attack so many of them. “I have seen this,” Oleson said. “It tends to happen when there is a bunch in a small pen.” She likened it to the reaction that a cat displays when someone shakes a feather at it.
The Georges called local lion hunter Shane Lyman after the first attack. He found a partial lion track in the dirt but could not determine if it was from a tom or a female lion. He took his dogs out that morning but didn’t find anything. After the second killing spree that next night, he went out again and this time found tracks from both a male and a female lion. Lyman says they may have been a mating pair, although it was early in the season to see that. “They are so unpredictable, it’s hard to say,” he commented. He was unable to track the cats further, as the animals had moved out of the forest onto private property.
There have been at least three similar instances of lion attacks in the Patagonia, Sonoita and Elgin area over the past year. This summer, according to Oleson, 20 animals, including cows, goats and sheep, were killed in and around Patagonia. “There’s a pretty good reason to think they were all killed by the same cat,” she said.
Lyman, who is called out an average of 10 – 15 times a year to track lions who are causing problems, thinks the same lion is most likely responsible for the Georges’ attack. “A male lion has a territory of 200 sq. miles,” he said. He recounted one lion he captured in Box Canyon which had a gps collar that had been placed on the lion in the Rincon mountains.
He guesses that there are between 30 and 50 lions in this area living in the surrounding mountains. There are more females than males, and the females have an average of two cubs per year. “There is no data to indicate that the lion population is up,” Oleson said. “We have a healthy population of lions because we have such a good population of white tail deer and javalinas.”
“A normal lion avoids people,” Lyman explained. “I think some of these lions live on the edges of town.” Lions are attracted to populated areas by easy prey, including cats, pet dogs, and domestic animals. Two years ago a starving male lion was euthanized in Patagonia after several sightings around residences. At that time Oleson told the PRT that “the lion’s continued presence is a consequence of people putting food out to attract wildlife, which can attract predators,” she said in an interview in May 2019.
Lyman expressed similar sentiments about the lion who did such damage to the Georges’ goat herd. “From my perspective, this lion seems to be habituated and unwary of people and dogs,” Lyman added. “I think these lions get comfortable around people’s houses and lose some of their fear.”