A Pawed Burglar

By David Collins

Santa Fe New Mexican, Aug. 13, 2007

 

A mountain lion that broke into a Plaza jewelry story through a glass door one night last weekend was earlier seen lunging at several other doors downtown, police said Monday as storekeepers and shoppers were abuzz over word of the four-legged burglar.

 

The 100-pound male cat broke into Rodeo on the Plaza, 78 E. San Francisco St., at about 1 a.m. Saturday. Store manager Firas Tavel said breaking glass inside the store probably triggered the motion alarm that alerted police. Tavel was still waiting late Monday for a crew to replace glass in the door where the cougar broke in.

 

Police Capt. Gary Johnson said he didn't learn the name of the witness who saw the mountain lion lunge at other businesses, but the man told police he saw the 100-pound male cat "jump on several downtown doors."

 

The cat might have come down the Santa Fe River, which traverses downtown near the Plaza and is a popular thoroughfare for wildlife, said Marty Frentzel, state Game and Fish Department spokesman.

 

The Catamount Bar and Grille on Water Street and La Fonda on Old Santa Fe Trail are located between the Santa Fe River and the Plaza, yet workers at both places reported no cougar sightings.

 

Catamount manager Anthony Odai said he was in front of the downtown bar early Saturday morning, alongside doormen for the popular night spot, and would probably have noticed any commotion. "I didn't see anything," he said.

 

Around the corner, La Fonda manager Jim Bradbury said he surveyed his security staff Monday, and they had heard no reports of a mountain lion. "Not a word," he said.

 

The cougar might have avoided human contact on his way to the Plaza, but inside the jewelry store, things got up close and personal.

When officers arrived, they reached through the broken glass door and entered the jewelry store, Johnson said. They had finished checking the front of the store and were working their way into a work area in the back when the cougar appeared.

 

"They saw the mountain lion about five feet in front of them," Johnson said.

 

Officer Paul Joy fired a slug from a 12-gauge shotgun, which landed at the bottom of a wall at the back of the store. Joy and Sgt. Alan Mascarenas then backed out of the store to await a wildlife officer armed with a less lethal weapon.

 

Johnson said Joy was completely within department policy when he fired at the cat. Santa Fe police carry both 12-gauge slugs and buckshot, which is a load of BB-sized steel or lead balls. Joy concluded a slug was the best ammunition to carry into a building likely occupied by a large wild animal, Johnson said.

 

Johnson also said the cat suffered a small cut on one of its paws when it jumped through the broken glass door. Glass in the door appeared to have previously been repaired with some sort of tape, Johnson said.

 

Game and Fish officer John Zamora arrived two hours later and found the cougar inside a restroom stall. He tranquilized the cougar with a dart gun, attached an identification tag and released it later that morning near Chama. He said the male cougar was full grown but skinny.

Adult male mountain lions can weigh 130 to 150 pounds.