HELENA, Mont. – A group of children waiting for their school bus Wednesday morning got a shock when they spotted a mountain lion in a field just 200 feet from their stop along a rural route.
The bus driver and the children saw the wild animal at about the same time as the bus was pulling up to the stop south of Missoula, said Robert Mitchell, general manager of the bus company, Beach Transportation.
The driver quickly loaded the children, who were three or four students ranging between kindergarten and eighth grade, and radioed the company, which called 911, Mitchell said.
He declined to release the name of the driver, but praised him for his actions. The children did not appear to be in danger, and seemed "more excited than scared," Mitchell said.
Upon spotting the bus and the children in the near-darkness of the morning, the mountain lion walked in front of the bus, down the road and up a nearby mountain, said Mike Thompson, regional wildlife manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Thompson said mountain lions are common in that part of the Missoula valley, and that the animal's quick exit led him to conclude the animal was not habituated to humans and did not pose a threat to people.
"Those movements and that behavior by a lion is pretty common. What's unusual is for somebody to see it. They're pretty secretive," Thompson said.
The school district alerted the parents of about 15 students who live in the area that a mountain lion had been spotted. District officials encouraged the parents to wait for their children at their bus stops when they are dropped off after school.
The close encounter was a good example of why parents should always accompany their children to bus stops, Mitchell said, but added that the reality is that humans and animals in western Montana share the same space.
"There are wild animals all around us. You don't have to be five miles up Miller Creek Road to encounter mountain lions," he said.