Watch dramatic rescue of two young mountain lions from reservoir release that "likely would have drowned them"

Mountain lion
Wildlife officials say that crews were preparing to release water from the reservoir when they noticed the two yearling mountain lions (Image credit: Getty)

Two young Colorado mountain lions are lucky to be alive after wildlife officials pulled off a complicated rescue effort to save the yearlings from drowning.

According to posts on X, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Southwest were called in after officials from Pine River Irrigation District Dam alerted them to the presence of the animals on Friday. Dam Tender Mike Canterbury was reportedly about to release water from Vallecito Reservoir northwest of Durango when he noticed the two young mountain lions down the spillway.

"A release of water likely would have drowned the two lions," writes the CPW. The mountain lions were on a dry stretch of the dam surrounded by high concrete walls with no chance of escape.

According to one post, District Wildlife Manager Ty Smith wasn’t initially sure if he would have to sedate the mountain lions by dart to extract them, but a video which you can watch below reveals he found success with a tactic that works with house cats – dangling a piece of string.

"He was provided a rope and dangled it in front of the kittens to see if by chance they’d grab onto it and he could lift it out. One of them did!"

The first mountain lion held onto the rope and was guided to safety before it quickly ran off into the woods. The second lion, however, ran down the spillway and began to pace nervously at the water's edge.

Pictures below reveal that Smith eventually clambered down into the spillway and managed to get the lion interested in the rope.

"With the lion interested in the rope, CPW staff were also able to use a catch pole and all together we lifted the lion over the concrete wall and quickly released it."

After hiking under a truck for a few minutes, the young lion darted off in search of its sibling.

Mountain lion safety

With milder temperatures ahead, more hikers are heading out onto the trail and though there's a very minute possibility you'll encounter one in the wild, it's worth brushing up on your mountain lion safety before lacing up your hiking boots.

If you do meet a mountain lion in the wild, it's important not to run. Stay facing it, backup slowly and make yourself appear big. If the mountain lion is acting aggressively, make noise and throw objects at it to deter it. Learn more in our article on what to do if you meet a mountain lion on the trail.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.