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Learning from Recent Encounters with Mountain Lions on the Trails

From Colorado Division of Wildlife

February 1998

Several 1997 incidents between mountain lions and trail users should remind us that Colorado's wildlife— including large predators— live in the same areas that we increasingly use as outdoor playgrounds.

A fatal attack took place in Rocky Mountain National Park when a 10 year-old boy, hiking on a trail ahead of his parents, was attacked by an adult female lion. The lion left the scene when the parents arrived, but was killed a short time later when it tried to pounce on a National Park Service officer who was guarding the boy's body.

A cyclist encountered a mountain lion on Walker Ranch Open Space in the foothills west of Boulder, an area popular with hikers and mountain bikers. The cyclist, a male in his 20s, was riding alone when a lion lunged from beside the trail and took a swipe at him.

"After the lion realized the biker wasn't typical prey like a deer, it stopped and began snarling with its ears laid back," reported Rick Basagoitia, the Division's district wildlife manager for the area.

According to Basagoitia, the biker positioned his bike in front of him until the lion backed off. The man slowly and warily proceeded along the trail, but the lion continued to follow him in a threatening stance. "The lion didn't attack and eventually went its own way," said Basagoitia. "From what we understand, the biker did everything he should have when people encounter mountain lions."

In California, another mountain biker was attacked by a lion while he rode alone on a bike trail at Mount Lowe in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. According to California Department of Fish and Game, the man's helmet was bitten and he thwarted the lion by using his bike in a defensive manner.

A 4-year-old French boy visiting Mesa Verde National Park with his parents was injured when a lion previously seen approaching people attacked him. The boy's wounds were not life threatening, and the lion was later tracked and dispatched by wildlife officers under required state policy.

Mountain lion sightings, much less encounters, are rare in Colorado. But as more hikers, bikers and other recreate in the backcountry, encounters like this will probably happen with increased frequency.

Mountain bikers and hikers may run a higher-than-normal risk of being attacked, suggested several Division wildlife experts. A mountain biker's heads-down posture while riding might stir a lion's curiosity And as hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers move through forested trails, a lion might interpret these activities as fleeing, which can stimulate its predatory attack response.

Some basic precautions that people need to keep in mind include:

-- Avoid solitary backcountry travel in areas known for mountain lion activity. Aggressive encounters are extremely rare, though not unheard of, when groups of adults are present.

-- Make noise during times of prime mountain lion activity: dawn and dusk. Lions will usually attempt to leave an area when humans are present.

-- Closely supervise small children when hiking or playing in known mountain lion habitat. Physical size of potential prey is a factor, and attacks involving children are much more common that those on adults.

-- Keep pets under control. Roaming pets are easy targets for lions, and may act like bait in drawing the attention of a mountain lion.

-- If confronted by a mountain lion, stay calm and talk firmly to it, and do everything possible to appear larger, such as opening a jacket with arms outstretched.

-- Back away slowly while facing the lion. Running may stimulate a lion's instinct to chase and attack.

-- If the lion acts in a threatening manner, throw stones, branches and whatever is available without crouching down or turning your back.

-- If attacked, fight back with your fist, walking stick, camera, or whatever object is available. People have successfully driven lions away using their bare hands. Always remain standing.

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