Specializing in the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned and injured wildlife in Colorado.
Mountain lions are present year-round in Douglas County but more commonly during the spring because of fawning and calving. Where ever large concentrations of prey are present, encounters with humans have increased. Like any wildlife, mountain lions can be dangerous but with better understanding of their life history and role in the ecosystem, humans can co-exist with these magnificent predators.
Mountain lions vary in size and weight, with males being larger than females. Lions are generally solitary animals with the exception of females and kittens. They are most active at night but can be active any time of the day.
The favorite prey of mountain lions is mule deer, although they will kill elk, porcupines, coyotes, mice and domestic animals. Like most cats they ambush their prey from close range, rather than a long pursuit.
Mountain lions breed throughout the year, but most females give birth to two or three kittens between April and July. Kittens remain with their mothers for approximately eighteen months, improving their hunting skills. Hunting for young mountain lions can be difficult. They often take less formidable prey and can be aggressive toward humans.
MOUNTAIN LION ENCOUNTER—WHAT TO DO?
It is rare for even field biologists to see a mountain lion in the wild, and then it is usually only a brief distant glimpse. Even if you are in an area with a lion, it will almost always detect you and move off without you ever knowing. A Colorado lion researcher recently estimated that the probability of being attacked by a lion in the state is approximately 1:425,000,000. This risk is about equal to being killed by falling space debris. You should not be alarmed about living in lion country or lose any sleep over it, but you should know what to do if you have the privilege of encountering a lion.
It is theoretically safer to hike through lion country if you are part of a group. If you are alone, making plenty of noise will reduce your chances of surprising a lion, but it will also reduce your chances of seeing any wildlife and it will detract from the outdoor experience.
If you are out hiking and you find what you think might be a lion kill (a carcass, partly eaten, and at least partly covered by branches and other local debris, usually scraped in from all sides of the carcass), leave immediately the way you came. Back out of the area slowly and quietly. Keep looking in front of you, and to the sides, constantly scanning 180 degrees. Don’t continue on your way until you are several hundred yards away or well in the open.
If you are hiking with a dog, make sure it is on a leash. Unleashed dogs, that have encountered lions while roaming far ahead of their hiking owners, have run back to their owners with the lion in hot pursuit. Other free-roaming dogs may not make it back to their owners.
If you see a lion, STOP AND REMAIN CALM. Do not try to approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. If children are with you, gather them around you, instructing them to slowly move toward you, preferably while facing the lion. If the children are small and there are only one or two, protect them by picking them up to avoid them panicking and running. NEVER RUN. Running will stimulate the lion’s predatory instinct to chase, exacerbating the situation.
Talk calmly, yet firmly to the lion to help it identify you as a human. GIVE THE LION A WAY TO ESCAPE. BACK AWAY SLOWLY if you can do so safely. ALWAYS FACE THE LION AND REMAIN UPRIGHT.
Do whatever you can to APPEAR LARGER and therefore, more threatening to the lion. While lions are formidable predators, and while you may feel like “dead meat” standing in front of one, the lion knows that it cannot risk being injured because that could mean death by starvation. Raise your arms, wave them, and hold open your jacket if you’re wearing one. Continue to back away until you’re well out of the area, while constantly scanning the area.
If the lion behaves aggressively (e.g., flattens ears, growls, slowly crouches, advances, exhibits a false charge, or circles) you need to ACT AGGRESSIVELY. Throw stones or throw or thrash branches around, but only if you can reach the objects without crouching down (appearing smaller and more vulnerable) or turning your back (also increasing your vulnerability). Your objective is to convince the lion that you are not prey and that you are a real threat to the lion. It doesn’t matter if you believe it, but the lion must be convinced.
If the lion attacks you, FIGHT BACK. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have successfully fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, backpacks, garden tools, and their bare hands. Remain standing facing the lion and, if knocked down, get back up immediately.