Vail Pet Talk column: What to do if you encounter a mountain lion
With winter in full effect, you may have noticed an increase in the amount of deer and elk in the valley. As frigid temperatures set in, annual migration leads these magnificent creatures to lower altitudes in search of winter food sources. On the heels of its natural food source, our region’s apex predator, the mountain lion, also moves to lower altitudes at this time of year.
In addition to more deer and elk in our backyards this time of year, other prey species of lions, such as raccoons, coyotes and foxes, tend to venture closer to residential areas to find easy meals. Add to the mix the influx of winter tourists and their furry friends and you have a recipe for the large upswing of human-lion and pet-lion encounters throughout the winter months. Sometimes these encounters occur without consequence, while other times, they can be fatal.
A Mountain Lion Encounter
On a recent outing with my dog, Remi actually came face to face with a lion on the banks of the Eagle River. My 40-pound Brittany spaniel was extremely fortunate that the particular lion he came across decided to run up a tree instead of standing its ground and defending itself or making a quick snack of Remi. We stuck around just long enough to snap a few pictures and count our blessings.
Sadly, more often than not, lion encounters with pets end in tragedy. A few days ago, a dog was attacked and killed by a lion on the west side of Edwards in its own yard. The pet was immediately rushed to the veterinarian but, unfortunately, had already passed away before receiving care.
Even in your own backyard, it’s important to take special precautions with pets and young children, especially this time of year.
• Don’t feed any wildlife or leave trash unsecured. It attracts lion prey such as foxes, raccoons and deer. Predators follow prey.
• Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Speak with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
• Keep your pet under control. Roaming pets are easy prey and can attract lions. Bring pets in at night. If you leave your pet outside, then keep it in a kennel with a secure top.
• Make lots of noise while outdoors during peak mountain lion activity (dusk and dawn).
• Install outside lighting (motion sensors, if possible) in areas where you walk so you could see a lion if one were present.
• Landscape or remove vegetation to eliminate hiding places for lions, especially around children’s play areas. Make it difficult for lions to approach unseen.
• Place livestock in enclosed sheds or barns at night. Close doors to all outbuildings since inquisitive lions may go inside for a look.
• Encourage your neighbors to follow these simple precautions. Prevention is far better than a possible lion confrontation.
• When you walk or hike in mountain lion country, go in groups and make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. A sturdy walking stick can 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 yet firmly to it. Move slowly.
• Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. If you have small children with you, then protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run.
• Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Do not turn and run. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.
• If the lion behaves aggressively, then 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. 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 can be driven away by prey that fights back. People have successfully fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Remain standing, or try to get back up.
Residents are asked to call 911 if a mountain lion poses an immediate threat to public safety. To report an unusual sighting in a neighborhood, call Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 970-947-2920.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers extensive information on its website. For more information about encounters with Colorado wildlife, visit cpw.state.co.us and click on “Learn” from the main navigation menu.
Doug Bahr, DVM, is a veterinarian with Vail Valley Animal Hospital, where he’s completing a yearlong internship. Contact him at 970-926-3496 with any questions about this article or your pets.