One Lucky Girl By Cynthia Colbert, Fishtail, Montana January 13, 2010
This time, with the lion in the tree, Norman and Kevin could clearly see the trap hanging from her foot.
was a joyous occasion when a female mountain lion returned to a deer kill she had been eating from the previous day. She had been fortunate to find an old kill abandoned by another lion.
Photo by Kevin Hanly
She had lost a lot of weight and grown weaker by the day. Finding this kill was literally a life saver for the fragile lion. Her luck did not stop there. She was also lucky enough to cross paths with kindred spirits, in the form of two men. To understand why her return to this site was so miraculous and extraordinary, let’s back up 24 hours... On January 9, 2010, Norman Colbert and Kevin Hanly along with Norman’s hounds, Big John and Neenah, treed a female mountain lion. A significant amount of blood in her track indicated this may be the female lion caught in a spring trap. Norman had already treed her 13 days before. He could not see her back feet in the tree, but could tell from her track in the snow that something was wrong with her right rear foot. At a party the next night, Norman talked to an area trapper who confirmed a lion got caught in one of his spring traps, and then broke loose with the trap still on her foot.
Photo by Kevin Hanly TREED LION WITH TRAP ON FOOT
She had been suffering with the pain of a crushed foot and the weight of dragging this trap for over two weeks. Blood was pouring from her wound and pooling under the tree. Norman and Kevin share a genuine love and respect for wildlife, therefore, they COULD NOT let her agony continue with that trap on her foot. From the tree, Norman called his wife Cynthia to, "see if you can find someone to help with this". A simple request? Not so much, especially on a Saturday. After 30 minutes of calls to various people, departments and agencies, the only answers were by machines. Norman then suggested she place a call to their ultimate wildlife resource, Dennis Purcell, owner of Purcell’s Taxidermy in Red Lodge.
Dr. Melchert is a prominent and highly recognized veterinarian that has extensive experience with wildlife in Montana and California. When he told Mr. Nichols that Dr. Melchert would meet him at Colbert’s YME Ranch in Dean to provide his expertise, the game was on!!! Kevin Hanly left the woods to come out to Norman’s house to meet Mr. Nichols and Dr. Melchert, while Norman stayed at the tree with the dogs and the lion. Norman said that Big John and Neenah (two of Penny and Rattler’s 6year old puppies) were extremely well behaved. He quickly got them to stop barking which allowed the lion to calm down and rest in the tree.
Photo by Kevin Hanly
Dennis and his son Jack were out goose hunting, but she reached his wife Jeannie. While Jeannie did not have a cell number for Shawn Stewart, Red Lodge area wildlife biologist, she gave Cynthia the name of the Red Lodge game warden, Kevin Nichols. Cynthia had already tried the Stillwater County game warden’s numbers, but only got voice mail. Mr. Nichols was not at home, but when she called the Carbon County Sheriff's office, they called Mr. Nichols on his cell.
Photo by Kevin Hanly TAKING A REST WHILE WAITING
Meanwhile, back at YME Ranch, Dr. Rodney loaded the syringe darts with appropriate dosages to knock the lion out. With daylight burning, Kevin Hanly took off with the game warden on the back of the 4-wheeler along with the dart gun and medical supplies. After riding across private land followed by a 1½-mile hike into the forest, the two Kevins (Hanly and Nichols) arrived at the tree where Norman and his hounds had been holding the lion for three hours. Norman documented most of what happened after this on video and audio tape. Under extreme pressure along with the eye of the video camera, Mr. Nichols
Photo by Kevin Hanly
Kevin Nichols was awesome! He called Cynthia right away and did not hesitate to jump into action. Then he called Norman at the tree to make a plan. Mr. Nichols told Norman that he had a tranquilizer gun, but had never knocked down a mountain lion. Therefore, he did not have drug or dosage information for a lion. Norman had already called Dr. Rodney Melchert, the veterinarian for the Beartooth Nature Center in Red Lodge. 2
determined that the combined length of the lion’s body, Kevin’s arm and two cords tied together, would probably reach the estimated 20-feet to the ground. Once Kevin got over two stories high into the tree, on the same level with a full grown mountain lion, he mused that, “this seemed like a lot better idea when I was on the ground”. Kevin literally had a “tiger” by the tail when he gave it a tug to see if she was awake. He was a bit surprised when the lion turned, looked him in the eye and gave an open-mouthed hiss. Kevin then yelled to the men on the ground, “Her eyes are open, and she’s looking at me, is that normal?” From his precarious perch in the tree, Kevin removed the trap, sprayed antibiotic on the injured foot, and tied a cord around her other hind leg. With much advice from the “ground crew”, he then began to lower the still conscious lion through the tree limbs. As the lion started coming down, Kevin tried to use the spruce tree trunk as a barrier between himself and the lion.
made an exceptional shot into the lion’s hip with a loaded dart. Norman’s concern, given the rocky terrain and her elevation in the tree, was that the lion would be mortally wounded if she fell.
Photo by Kevin Hanly JUST AFTER SHOT FROM DART GUN
Much discussion concluded with the decision that Kevin Hanly would climb into the tree with the lion. Mr. Nichols made it abundantly clear that not only did he not endorse the climb, but he thought Norman and Kevin were crazy!
Photo by Kevin Hanly SPRING TRAP ON RIGHT REAR FOOT
The plan was simple... Just tie a rope around her, and then lower her to the ground in order to address the wounded foot. While most people could have found many problems with this plan, the only obstacle Norman and Kevin saw was that they did not have a rope! Norman dug into his backpack and found two pieces of parachute cord. They
Photo by Kevin Hanly
The growling that can be heard on Norman’s tape is quite unnerving. Again, the “ground crew” encouraged Kevin to give the lion some rope in order to continue her journey to the ground. It did not go unnoticed by Kevin that the only thing keeping the lion from advancing to his side of the tree was the tension he had 3
demeanor during the handling of this hurt, wild, mountain lion was a bit disconcerting. They wrapped her in a blanket, drug her into a clearing and covered her with a second blanket. Then the drugs took full effect and she was unconscious. Norman and Kevin assured Mr. Nichols that they had the situation under control and could stay with the lion as long as needed. Mr. Nichols started his trek out of the woods to keep a prior commitment. The lion was unconscious for about a 10-minute period and then started coming back around. The dosage recommended by Dr. Melchert was absolutely perfect! Norman and Kevin stayed with the lion while she awoke. As she started to regain consciousness, the lion got up and stepped out from under the blankets. With Kevin right beside her, Norman repositioned a blanket over her back. The lion spun around and swatted the blanket away while giving a warning growl. The speed in which she accomplished this reminded the men of their proximity to a wild carnivorous animal. Of course, that did not stop them from completing the task of making sure the lion was okay. When she started walking away, they followed her and kept her moving until they were convinced that she could continue on her own.
in the cord!! After pointing this out to the guys below, in a voice that sounded a few octaves higher than normal, Kevin successfully lowered the lion to the ground without injury to either of them. As Norman received and eased the lion onto the ground, he realized that she was still remarkably alert. He proceeded to remove the cord from her leg and spray a sealer provided by Dr. Melchert over the wound. The trap had totally severed two toes on her right rear foot and the remainder of that foot was horribly mangled.
Photo by Kevin Hanly
Norman and Kevin both had their hands on the lion, checking her injury, when she stood up and started walking away from the tree. She still was highly mobile as she made her way through the snow. Norman and Kevin followed her as she climbed over downfall and started into some undergrowth. They proceeded to pull out the loopy, but still awake lion. Because of his concern for the “crazy men’s” safety, Mr. Nichols suggested they “back-off” and let her go on her way. Dr. Melchert had advised of the importance of keeping her warm while the drugs metabolized. Norman and Kevin do not do anything half-way, and they had no intention of quitting until they completed the mission. While admirable, their calm
Photo by Kevin Hanly
The next morning Norman and Kevin went to check out the area where they had 4
last seen the lion. With trepidation, they followed her trail into a thicket. As they approached, the fear of finding her piled up, dead in the brush was profuse. To their relief, her tracks came out of the thicket and continued through the woods. She had walked a mile long circle and returned to the deer kill she was feeding on the previous day, before crossing baths with her liberators. Elation does not begin to describe the excitement and joy the men felt. They were immensely relieved to find that she had survived the ordeal of being tranquilized and having her foot treated. Additionally, her foot was no longer bleeding and she was eating. Norman called the trapper and told him about the incident. The trapper informed Norman that he had pulled all his traps out of the woods after the conversation they had on December 28th. Norman and Kevin have a compassion for wildlife that is truly remarkable and admirable. Hopefully, this mold is not broken and there are other men that would be willing to go through this level of effort and risk. A few good men, we can only hope there are more…
NORMAN COLBERT and KEVIN HANLY
Norman and Cynthia Colbert live on their YME Ranch in South Central Montana along with 8 Treeing Walker Hounds, 6 Arabian Horses and Rocky, a Havanese puppy. Kevin Hanly lives in Bozeman Montana with Elly, his 17 year old American Eskimo and 2 cats. All three own businesses in Montana; Colbert Real Estate is Cynthia’s brokerage, YME Contractors is Norman’s excavation company, Yellowstone Property Maintenance is Kevin’s ranch & home caretaking and maintenance company.