It was late November, and Dic Chiolis, electrical account manager at DSG in Rapid City, SD, learned that a friend was studying mountain lions for the Game, Fish and Parks Department as part of his doctorate studies. Chiolis was thrilled when his friend gave him the opportunity to tag along on one of his trips into Custer State Park.
On their first night out, things began slowly. The two men drank coffee in the pickup and waited. After a few hours, the snare alarm went off, and they piled out of the truck with their adrenaline pumping.
Male mountain lions can weigh up to 180 pounds and can be 8 feet long from nose to tail. Chiolis and his friend found a female in the snare, but it was still massive. In fact, females can weigh 140 pounds, and this one was not happy. She snarled at the two men as they called a local biologist who would administer a tranquilizer. Chiolis remembers how closely he watched the animal as they waited. “She was huge, and I wanted to make sure that she stayed put.”
Once the animal was sedated, the men lifted her onto a soft pillow, performed some tests and fitted her with a radio collar. Chiolis noticed four cubs watching closely from the hillside as their mother slept.
Soon, the biologist administered a shot to reverse the effects of the tranquilizer. The professionals asked Chiolis if he wanted a few photos with the cat as it regained consciousness. After a few snapshots with the reclining mountain lion, Chiolis stood up to call it a night. As a final picture was taken, the cat stood up as well, right beside Dic Chiolis.
“My eyes were huge in that picture,” he laughs. “My friend just told me to go back to the truck, which I gladly did. But I kept an eye on that cat. In my mind, she was going to pounce any second.”
Chiolis made it to the truck safely (as his companions laughed hysterically), and the mountain lion slowly returned to her cubs. Chiolis would eventually help with several other mountain lion captures, but he always considered that first night to be the most exciting.