Summit locals, visitors reminded to stay aware of mountain lion threat
June 6, 2016
The snow continues to melt around Summit County, taking more and more locals and visitors to higher elevations for summer activities and making for more chances of spotting a mountain lion.
These 5-to-8-foot-long, 100-to-180-pound cats known by many names — cougars, panthers, pumas — do not hibernate and breed throughout the year so can be detected year-round. But as swelling numbers of people live in and explore main habitat areas for lions, sightings are becoming more common throughout the state, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) wants to ensure individuals are mindful and on the look out.
"Lions capture people's imaginations as these vicious predators," said Mike Porras, CPW's public information officer for the northwest region. "And they are large, powerful animals that can cause significant injuries if they attack a human, but those are exceedingly rare. The important thing is perspective. People just need to be aware of that possibility and need to know what to do if there's a conflict."
First and foremost, those who encounter a mountain lion should never run because it can trigger the animal's predatory instincts. Instead, raise your arms over your head in order to make yourself look big, maintain eye contact and back away slowly while yelling at the animal. If possible, throw a rock or stick at the animal to dissuade it further.
Hikers are recommended to go with a partner, to carry a pole or stick, make noise along the way and to keep children close if they're joining for the trek. Lions are most active at night, so it's important to be most cautious when hiking at dusk or dawn. And, on the off chance you are attacked, fight back as aggressively as possible with anything you have.
The town of Red Cliff, south of Vail, experienced a handful of mountain lion sightings just this January after residents witnessed two dogs killed within town limits, and several others going missing. Along those lines, CPW also asks that pet owners bring their animals in at dusk or, at the very least, secure them in a fully confined pen if they're to be left unattended outdoors.
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"People are getting more into the hobby farming thing, keeping goats, sheep, chickens, miniature horses — all kinds of stuff," explained Joe Lewandowski, CPW's public information officer for the southwest region. "People just need to pay attention to what their enclosure is."
For unincorporated, rural areas of towns and cities, he also suggested looking into an electric fence, which can be bought at most hardware or farm supply stores, to protect livestock and domestic pets. These are good deterrents against bears, as well, as are hanging ammonia-soaked rags or socks, reapplying every two or three days to maintain effectiveness.
"Bears do not like that aroma," said Lewandowski. "I would guess mountain lions wouldn't like it either."
The key, these wildlife experts say of living in the mountain environment, is simply to be vigilant and attentive to your surroundings. These cats primarily stalk deer — on average killing one every 10-to-14 days — but will also settle for raccoons, porcupines and coyotes.
On occasion, as in Red Cliff, these animals will steal a dog from the porch, but it's not terribly common, and human assaults are that much rarer. The last confirmed mountain lion fatality in the United States occurred in New Mexico in 2008 and the last one in Colorado in 1997, when a 10-year-old hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park got ahead of his family.
"There's no verifiable, scientific evidence on this," said Lewandowski, "but lions that get in trouble tend to be younger. After 18 months with their mother, they get kicked out and can get into trouble by taking a domestic cat or dog or when they take a left turn instead of a right turn — maybe into Frisco instead of Eagles Nest Wilderness Area."
Still, he said, there's nothing to freak out about with a general news release CPW recently issued on the subject. If there were a mountain lion problem locally, we would see more of them or hear of additional sightings, so there is no specific reason to be worried. But a good rule of thumb remains that if you see prey, predators probably aren't far off.
"If you see deer in the area," said Porras, "it's likely there's a lion in the area. Many people may not know that because they are active at night. Lions follow their food, so if someone is feeding and creating resident deer, it also increases the possibility of lions because attracting prey also attracts predators. It's another reason why we tell people not to feed wildlife."
If you see a mountain lion in the area and are concerned, you are encouraged to please call CPW's northwest region office at (970) 255-6100. In the meanwhile, to learn more about mountain lions, visit the agency's website at: http://www.cpw.state.co.us.