Mountain lion kittens frozen to tracks saved |graham_inglis||11/06/03 at 19:28:56|graham_inglis|xx|0||

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Mountain lion kittens frozen to tracks saved by inspector

By MARTIN J. KIDSTON - IR Staff Writer - 11/02/03

A railroad inspector was forced to stop his track truck Friday morning
near Butte when he came across three mountain lion kittens on the

It wasn't that the animals were waiting to jump the next westbound
freight train to Missoula. Rather, the eight-week old kittens had become
frozen to the rails in the frigid morning air.

Pat O'Rourke, an employee of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad,
was inspecting the main line 12 miles west of Butte when he spotted
something odd on the tracks.

"I saw stuff in front of me," O'Rourke said Saturday night. "I thought
it was a deer that got hit by a train or something."

O'Rourke was surprised to find three kittens on the tracks instead. The
young mountain lions had crossed Silver Bow Creek in the 10-degree air
before walking onto the steel rails.

O'Rourke said one kitten was frozen to the track on its back. Another
was frozen to a railroad spike by its paw and its belly also was frozen
to the rail. The third kitten was frozen to a second set of tracks by
the tail.

"I tried to approach them with a shovel and give them a little prod,"
O'Rourke said. "I couldn't figure out... I thought they were just born."

When O'Rourke couldn't move the kittens with a shovel and realized they
were frozen to the tracks, he tried pouring his thermos of coffee on one
kitten's paw, hoping it would free the animal from the icy trap. That
didn't work either.

"They kept licking their paws, and the more they licked, the more stuck
they got," O'Rourke said. "It seemed like every time they moved one
thing, something else got stuck."

The sound of the screaming kittens roused their mother who was watching
the spectacle from a nearby ridge. The roar of the angry female mountain
lion spooked O'Rourke back into his track-truck.

Debbie Lewis, a TipMont License Fraud Coordinator with FWP, took
O'Rourke's call that morning.

Lewis contacted Marty Vook, a game warden with Montana's Fish, Wildlife
and Parks, who arrived on the scene with hot water. When the kittens
finally ran free, O'Rourke said, they left patches of hair on the steel

"(O'Rourke) said the kittens were all teeth and claws," Lewis said.
"They actually held the train back to keep from running over the

O'Rourke said the kittens were exhausted by the ordeal.

"They weren't real healthy when they left," he said. "But the warden
said that was their best chance."

Now O'Rourke's co-workers are calling him the "Lion King." He said he
doesn't mind the prodding. He was just happy to help the young mountain
lions out of their jam.

Martin Kidston can be reached at 447-4086, or by e-mail at