Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Man Killed by Cougar, Officials Confirm
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES — Medical investigators confirmed Monday that a mountain lion killed, and apparently ate, parts of a Pinos Altos man whose body was found near his home in southwestern New Mexico last week.
It was the first confirmed case of a fatal cougar attack in New Mexico in nearly 35 years.
The body of 55-year-old Robert Nawojski, who lived alone in a small mobile home in a wooded area of Pinos Altos, north of Silver City, was found June 20. Officials weren't initially certain how he died.
State Game and Fish officers and federal Wildlife Services agents were using dogs and snares Monday in an effort to track and catch the lion they now believe killed Nawojski, whose brother reported him missing June 19.
A Game and Fish officer called to Nawojski's home after a search team found a mountain lion near the trailer home on June 19, shot and wounded the lion the same day after it would not leave the yard. After the lion fled, the officer found the door to Nawojski's house open, water running, and the victim's false teeth on a table.
Nawojski was apparently attacked below a rock ledge about 60 yards from his home, where he liked to bathe and shave, the Department of Game and Fish said in a news release.
The lion apparently dragged Nawojski's body a short distance from the rock ledge, fed on the victim and buried parts of the body.
Nawojski is the second human fatality involving a mountain lion attack in recent New Mexico history. In January 1974, an eight-year-old boy from Arro yo Seco was killed by an emaciated 47-pound female lion, later killed by a neighbor. The victim and his seven-year-old half brother were playing about a half-mile from their home when the lion attacked.
Rick Winslow, a Game and Fish large carnivore biologist, said fatal attacks on humans by mountain lions are uncommon and tragic. Such attacks typically come from young, hungry animals looking to establish their territory, Winslow said. There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 mountain lions in New Mexico.
“Attacks by wildlife may become more frequent as our growing population expands into the urban-wildland interface,'' Winslow said. “New Mexico has a healthy population of mountain lions and people who live around them must learn to take precautions and avoid dangerous encounters.''