Since a lot of what I write about has to do with being outdoors, particularly in the wilderness, it is important to understand some of the potential threats against you that may be lurking about. Tonight I want to talk about mountain lions, which are plentiful here in Colorado (they exist in many other states as well, not just mountainous regions).
While the mountain lion is very reclusive, you may come across one in your outdoor adventures. In the 29 years I have been experiencing the great outdoors here, I have only seen four mountain lions. But there is a saying about mountain lions; “A lot more mountain lions will see you than you see them.” That’s kind of a scary thought, especially when I think about all the times I am out sneaking around in lion country in pursuit of an elk or deer.
If you do ever see a lion, there is little chance you will mistake it for anything else. While they have the physical characteristics of a house cat, mountain lions are enormous! The head of a large mountain lion can be as big as a basketball, and they have very long, thick tails which they use to help balance themselves while chasing game. From their nose to the tip of their tale, a lion can be up to eight feet long, with males weighing around 160 pounds, and females around 100 pounds. The amazing thing about mountain lions is their leaping ability, with documented distances of 18 feet vertically, 45 feet horizontally, and 60 feet from a tree down to the ground, that is something good to know if you ever come across one.
Mountain lion tracks show four toes on the front foot and four toes on the hind foot, and a pad below the toes. The retractable claws do not show in the prints, so if you aren’t sure of a track and you see claws, it
is not a lion. Lion tracks can be over four inches long. Like all cats a lion’s back foot will fall in the same place as its front foot, and the tracks are generally in a straight line.
A single male lion’s territory can be up to 150 square miles, more or less depending on what human encroachment surrounds them. Within this range there may be up to three females, some of which may have cubs, who stay with their mother for 18 months. The males do not participate in raising the young, and males will never overlap their territories. They use scrapes to mark their territory, which are small piles of leaves, pine needles, and other debris soaked with their urine.
Lions may travel up to 25 miles in a single day while hunting for food, which consists primarily of deer and elk, although they will eat smaller animals if the chance presents itself.
Knowing all of this about mountain lions, there are some things you can do to increase your safety and avoid an attack:
- When venturing into mountain lion habitat, go in groups and make plenty of noise in an effort to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. Make sure children are close to and under the supervision of adults. Teach children about mountain lions and what to do if they see one. Never let a small child get too far away from you.
- Do not approach lions. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give the lion a way to escape.
- Stay calm if you come upon a lion. Talk to it in a firm voice in an effort to demonstrate that you are human and not its regular prey.
- Take off your sun glasses as to the lion they make you appear to have huge eyes, which is threatening to them.
- Back away slowly. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack.
- Face the lion and make an effort to appear as large as possible. Open your jacket or lift objects to appear like a more formidable opponent. Pick up your children.
- If the lion behaves aggressively, throw rocks, sticks or whatever you can pick up, without turning your back to the lion or bending down.
- If the lion would happen to attack, fight back. Gouge him in the eyes, punch and kick him as hard as you can. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. Remain standing and keep attempting to get back up if you are brought to the ground.
But don’t let any of that scare you, mountain lion attacks are very rare, and you will feel more confident with this knowledge.