PIMA COUNTY, Ariz. — A mountain lion thought it had found a cozy, secure place to enjoy a meal.
The predator was free to munch down on the coyote carcass it had caught in a quiet, secluded location.
But what the cougar didn't know was the animal was being watched.
That's because its little dining den was positioned in the backyard of Jack Welch, a resident of the Sun City community in northern Pima County.
Even after spotting Welch in the yard, the lion felt comfortable enough to come back later and continue its meal.
Welch's surveillance camera first detected the lion strolling through his property Monday at about 4 a.m.
A few hours later that day, Welch's wife discovered a coyote carcass the lion left behind underneath the couple's grapefruit tree.
They called the Arizona Game and Fish Department to ask them to remove the dead animal. The Welchs were told AGFD doesn't collect coyote carcasses so they decided to leave it alone.
Later that evening, Welch said he went outside and was stunned to see the silhouette of a mountain lion lurking in the shadows.
"That was a little unnerving," he recalled. "Facing an animal that size, that close -- I know who's going to win that fight."
Welch said he dashed back inside and started snapping several photos of the lion guarding its coyote carcass. The animal eventually left and would return at least two more times over the next 12 hours.
When it appeared there wasn't much left of the dead coyote, Welch said he decided to remove it from his yard.
"It was starting to smell and draw flies so I bagged it up," Welch said.
Now that Welch has eliminated any incentive for the cougar to return, the lion has probably moved on to find someplace else to hang around.
Mountain lion sightings in residential areas are quite rare because the animal is known for staying away from humans.
Welch said he's only had one other lion sighting during the 12 years he's lived in Sun City and that encounter was nothing like his recent interaction.
The lion's behavior of leaving and returning to Welch's yard is characteristic of a hunting style that's been observed by animal experts.
According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, pumas are considered subordinate and vulnerable to other powerful predators like bears and wolves.
"This subordinate status lead mountain lions to evolve a suite of covert and clandestine behaviors which decrease the detectability of their kills on the landscape," the foundation wrote on its website.
As a result, lions will drag their prey to other locations where they feel safer to eat and then hide their food from other carnivores.
"Moss, twigs, grass, and dead leaves can all be used by mountain lions to cover a carcass," according to the foundation.
Welch said his recent mountain lion experience has made him more cautious about his surroundings and he's worried about letting his grandkids play in the backyard.
He expects to possibly see more lions around Sun City since they may have discovered better hunting opportunities around the neighborhood.
"I think more of them are showing up here now because we see deer quite a bit too," Welch added.
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