What to do if you encounter a mountain lion | VailDaily.com | VailDaily.com

Mountain lion encounter in Steamboat serves as reminder to be vigilant

Eleanor Hasenbeck
Steamboat Pilot

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At 9 p.m. Saturday, Steamboat resident Julia Dordoni found herself singing as loudly as she could as darkness fell on the Spring Creek Trail.

Dordoni had been mountain biking downhill by herself on the popular trail just outside of city limits when a mountain lion stopped her in her tracks about two-and-a-half miles from the Amethyst Drive Trailhead.

“It was just walking on the trail,” she said. “I came down the trail, and there was a curve. As soon as I came around the curve, it was right in front of me, walking in the direction that I was going, away from me.”

Dordoni explained that it then disappeared around a bend directly in front of it.

“I couldn’t see it anymore. I didn’t know if it went in the bushes or if it was still waiting on the trail,” she said.

Without seeing where the cat went and without a light source, she didn’t want to continue down the trail. She walked backwards to get away from it, then dialed 911. Dispatchers advised her to make as much noise as she could, so she sang to herself. About 45 minutes later, a police officer arrived to walk out with her. 

Dordoni said she believed the mountain lion was full grown and about 6 feet long with a 3-foot tail.

Living with lions

“With the increase in the amount of recreation, the increase in the amount of people going out in the woods, the chances of seeing a lion or having a lion encounter with a person is subsequently higher, as well,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Kyle Bond said.

When living and playing in mountain lion habitat, there are steps you can take to live with and avoid a bad experience with a mountain lion. This includes keeping trash and recycling secure, which can pique a mountain lion’s interest in an area, Bond said. Avoid tossing scraps outside or feeding pets outdoors, which can attract smaller animals that lions prey on, such as raccoons.

You should ensure vegetation around your home is trimmed to prevent a mountain lion from taking shelter or cover near a home, according to Parks and Wildlife. Consider installing outdoor lighting around walkways. Ground-level windows and doors should be closed and locked, and pets and children should be under supervision when playing outside.

On the trail, consider when mountain lions are most likely to be active. Bond explained that, while mountain lions are active throughout the day, they’re most active in the early morning and late evening.

“If folks are outside recreating in those times, they need to be aware that there’s an increased chance for an encounter with a lion,” he said.

Parks and Wildlife recommends carrying a light, noisemakers and pepper spray in the woods and keeping dogs on a leash.

“Anything to protect yourself or give yourself some time and distance from a lion and to let a lion know that you’re in the area by making noise and whatnot,” he said.

Dordoni, who hits the trail almost daily, said, from now on, she’s never biking without those items. She also plans to avoid mountain biking at dusk and recommends others head out with a group.

“From now on, I’m packing a bag to put on my bike with a knife, a blow horn, a whistle, mace and a portable phone charger, and I’m not going mountain biking with those things ever again,” she said.

What to do if you encounter a mountain lion

Colorado Parks and Wildlife wants to know whenever you see a mountain lion or notice lion-like activity close to a town, or if a human action causes a change in what the lion is doing.

If you do encounter a lion, the agency recommends taking the following steps:

  • Go in groups when you walk or hike in mountain lion country and make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. A sturdy walking stick is a good idea; it can be used to ward off a lion. Make sure children are close to you and within your sight at all times. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
  • Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
  • Stay calm when you come upon a lion. Talk calmly and firmly to it. Move slowly.
  • Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.
  • Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up, so they won’t panic and run.
  • If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion.
  • Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and their bare hands successfully. Remain standing or try to get back up.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.