A wildlife shelter just outside Scottsdale is to be the new home for mountain lions the state is trying to capture and remove from a popular wilderness recreation area near Tucson.
Enclosures are being prepared for as many as four lions at the Southwest Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Foundation’s facility below the McDowell Mountains near Rio Verde Drive and 156th Street, said director Linda Searles.
The lions in Sabino Canyon east of Tucson have lost their fear of humans, so they could be a threat to humans, said Jim deVos, chief of wildlife research for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The department was going to kill the lions but negative public reaction led to the removal plan.
"It’s pretty predictable where (the lions) will roam, so there’s a good likelihood we’ll find them,’’ deVos said.
The animals are to be sedated, flown out of Sabino Canyon and trucked to Southwest Wildlife’s shelter.
Game and Fish has worked with Southwest Wildlife on many animal rescue efforts. The department took more than a dozen black bears to the shelter in 2001, when the bears roamed into the East Valley looking for relief from severe drought conditions.
"We respect their expertise . . . and they are one of the few places in Arizona that can handle large animals like adult lions,’’ deVos said.
The shelter expects to keep the lions permanently, Searles said.
Relocating the animals to the wild might threaten their lives by putting them into competition for food in other lions’ territories, and the shelter could face liability issues if it released the lions and they later endangered humans, she said.
The lions probably would eventually be moved to Southwest Wildlife’s planned 528-acre wildlife sanctuary in a remote area in the southeast part of the state.
But the sanctuary won’t be ready for at least two years. The nonprofit organization will have to build special enclosures for the lions at its north East Valley shelter and provide care that could cost as much as $40,000, Searles said.
The shelter already is the permanent residence for four black bears and several foxes, coyotes, javelinas and Mexican gray wolves, she said.