BILLINGS — A mountain lion was spotted north of the Physical Education building on the Montana State University-Billings campus Wednesday at 7:10 a.m., according to a MSUB press release.
According to the release: "The mountain lion was headed towards upper Mountain View Blvd. University Police checked the area but was unable to locate it."
Precautions should be taken with any outdoor activities, and especially with children and small pets during morning and nighttime hours, the release stated.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Education Coordinator Bob Gibson said mountain lions commonly pass through the area of the Rims. A population of lions live along the portion of the Yellowstone River that runs through Billings.
"We know that they move through that area and up through the Rims and go up into Alkali Creek to hunt. We know they move through," Gibson said. “It’s not unusual at all for them to be passing through. They regularly move up past Metra, past Applebees to go up onto the Rims into Alkali Creek. We know that sometimes they cut around the Rims and go up and move through."
Mountain lions are notoriously difficult to track. Gibson said there is no way to know if the lion spotted Wednesday morning is the same animal that was spotted earlier in the summer.
"But we have no idea whether this would be the same cat or if there is more than one, we don’t really know.”
Mountain lions can be found from the east end of the Heights, anywhere along the Rims and the Yellowstone River corridor. Gibson said mountain lions have a specific territory that they try to keep other big cats out of.
"That’s where they hunt and that’s what they are familiar with," Gibson said. "Those cats that live along the Yellowstone River, in the river bottoms, the islands, and the cottonwoods. They have to go eat someplace. So they move through.”
Gibson said that people should not be afraid of a mountain lion encounter. They are elusive creatures that don't want to have anything to do with humans or pets. The lions that have been spotted over the summer have not been displaying behavior that would worry the experts.
"They're acting like lions," Gibson said. "When people come and when dogs come, they go away. So they are acting just like they should. There is nothing that Fish, Wildlife and Parks is going to do to change what they are doing now."
Gibson said the lions have not been displaying behavior that would indicate they are used to a human presence, or would return to find a food source.
"People just need to be aware," Gibson said. "We're not saying don't go out at night, or don't take your kids out. But just be aware so that there isn't a chance encounter with a cat. The cats don’t want to encounter a person anymore than a person wants to encounter a cat."
For more tips on mountain lion safety, click here.