I got the message late last week: A mountain lion was spotted lurking on my front porch. A warning came in on the community hotline: Keep pets on a leash and don’t abandon the kids in the yard. Bears have also been seen lurking.
This happened last week at my other hometown of Redstone, Colorado, population 92. But lions are here in the Fraser Valley and I’m expecting to walk into one on the trail any day now. I have had some pretty exciting wildlife encounters here including coming almost nose to nose with a 1,200-pund bull moose on the Fraser Trail and hearing the mewling cry of a mountain lion up near the Experimental Forest.
I have to admit. I’m kind of casual. Redstone is pretty quiet and I often open the front door to catch the breeze. My dog “Chooch” is laid back and mostly stays close. Unfortunately he sometimes follows his nose and meanders into the back yard, or worse, down the street. Lion bait.
What to do when you come upon a lion? I’d probably run for my life, zigging and zagging through the trees like a running back but that’s not what the experts recommend.
Josh Wambolt of Avalanche Outfitters knows a thing or two about encounters with mountain lions and he sent out a PSA to the residents of Redstone.
Hear a whistling noise that sounds like a bird? That may not be the neighbor’s parrot. It may be a mountain lion. I have heard this sound before. It’s not as scary as the roar of the MGM lion but it is hair-raising.
Be cautious when bending down on the trail. It not only makes you an easy target for a lion but also makes you look like a prey animal. Bottom line: It may not be your best profile, either.
To avoid lion encounters, you are supposed to make noise when walking, which is counter-intuitive. I like to hear things crashing through the brush at me. It gives me time to assume a defensive, martial arts posture. It’s tough to hear predators approaching while singing, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” at the top of my voice on the trail.
If and when a lion is encountered you are supposed to make noise, face the danger and back away slowly. This may also go against your instincts but throwing things like sticks and stones at the lion will let it know that you are not prey and that you will not go down without a fight.
When it comes to attacks it’s mostly good news. They are not common. But like shark attacks, it only takes one or two mountain lion attacks before people start taking notice. Most attacks are by juvenile lions. The big males travel alone and get up to six feet long and weigh 200 pounds.
According to the Rocky Mountain National Park website, “They stalk prey quietly through trees, boulders or other covered areas. They move until they reach a striking distance of 30 feet or less, and leap on to their target’s back with a suffocating neck bite. The impact could be enough to break the prey’s neck or the mountain lion will deliver the killer bite.”
I know what you are thinking. I’ll just dodge it and give it a kick. But you may not hear it coming and lions are leapers.
“They can leap as high as 18 feet vertically and cover 40 feet horizontally in one bound,” according to the national park warning.
The best strategy is to avoid that scenario entirely. Wambolt’s PSA notes that some hikers have had success turning back stalkers by wearing sunglasses on the back of the head, fooling the lion into thinking that his cover has been blown.
If you are struck, fight back. Lions can be turned off by prey that fights back.
When you look at pictures of pumas online you will see that they look like house cats — serious, stern, focused 200-pound monster house cats with beautiful markings, and deadly claws and teeth. It’s said that they drag their kill more than 1,000 feet to enjoy it in a place with a view.
We have bear issues here all across the state. I’ve seen foxes and coyotes in the area and Chooch is often springing after skunks in the bush. It’s kind of like a zoo, except there are no cages.
Steve Skinner reminds you to keep your kids on a leash. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.