Caution Can Prevent Mountain Lion Attacks

Contact: Wendy Keefover-Ring, Director, Carnivore Protection Program, Sinapu

Work: 303..447.8655, Ext. 1#

The attack by a mountain lion on a child in Boulder, Colorado this weekend underscores the need for human vigilance in order to co-exist with wildlife.

“Mountain lion attacks rarely occur, and they are generally avoidable if we exercise caution and act responsibly in their habitat,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, Director, Carnivore Protection Program of Sinapu.

Keefover-Ring stressed that, “attacks can be avoided if people exercise caution, like keeping young children always within eyesight of the parents. When we come into their habitat, we must show respect, and vigilance. Co-existing with large native carnivores is the key to keeping people safe and our ecosystems in balance,” said Keefover-Ring.

“Despite the popular myth, mountain lions, unlike black bears, do not habituate to people. The two studies that I’m aware of—that looked at human-lion interactions—showed that lions avoid people,” added Keefover-Ring.

“Attacks on humans occur only rarely, and only because there is something likely wrong with the individual animal. If there’s been a human attack, the animal is generally either in poor physical condition, or a young animal with poor hunting skills that is desperate for food,” added Keefover-Ring.

Experts (Professors Paul Beier of Northern Arizona University (http://oak.ucc.nau.edu/pb1/publications.htm) and Lee Fitzhugh of University of California, Davis) found a total of 17 credible fatalities from mountain lion attacks in the United States since 1890—with two occurring in Colorado—one in Idaho Springs in 1991 and the other in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1997.

A child who disappeared near Ft. Collins while on a hike in 1999, may have been killed by a mountain lion. But his body was found much later and the result of his death was not definitively proved, and thus experts do not count it.

“The demographic of people most likely to be attacked by lions are children under 16, according a 2003 report co-authored by Professor Lee Fitzhugh” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, Director of Carnivore Protection Program for Sinapu.

“Mountain lion attacks occur very rarely, however, because they specialize on deer, elk, and other smaller animals like rabbits and porcupines,” said Keefover-Ring.

“Mountain lions are shy and cryptic, and they avoid people, according to a study by lion researchers, Linda Sweanor and Ken Logan, PhD. In their study they found that lions avoided people in a California park that attracts nearly one-half of a million visitors per year,” said Keefover-Ring.

“If attacks occur, aggressively fighting back is the best course of action. The 7-year old boy who was attacked on Saturday night survived because of the vigilance of his family.

Mountain Lion Symposium, May 2nd:

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science will host a symposium on mountain lions on May 2nd, from 7:30 to 9:30. Several experts including lion researchers will be available to discuss mountain lion’s naturally history, our differing cultural perceptions of lions, and how we manage them.

Common sense precautions:

· Parents should always have children under 16 ahead of them, and always within sight distance.
· Mountain lions hunt at dawn and dusk, which is the time when people need to be the most vigilant. Carry a deterrent such as a walking stick or pepper spray.
· It is best not travel alone, especially at dawn or dusk. Trail runners and mountain bikers should run/ride with others. Fitzhugh reports that solitary individuals are three times more likely to have an encounter or sustain an attack than are a pair of people or a group.
· Homeowners living in puma country should eliminate hiding places for lions such as dense vegetation near the house—especially in children’s play areas. Put children’s play areas where they can be supervised from inside the house. Consider fencing children’s play areas—pumas prefer to ambush their prey; a fence is a good deterrent.
· In puma country, do not allow children to play outside at dawn or dusk. Children under 16 that are not accompanied by an adult are at the greatest risk.
· Homeowners should not attract deer. Plant only native foliage. Deer-proof fences that are 6 to 8 feet tall will deter both deer and pumas.
· Homeowners should install lighting in areas where family or pets move at dark.
· Do not allow pets to roam at night. In puma country, keep pets on a leash and securely confined at night. Kennels with a secure top are recommended—or enclosed in a building.
· If you encounter a lion: keep eye contact, move backwards slowly. Raise your arms over your head to appear larger. If you’re wearing a jacket, grab the corners and lift over your back (like wings) to appear larger. Yell. Throw rocks or sticks. Be aggressive, never submissive.

Background Information:
A top carnivore, mountain lions (also known as pumas, cougars, and panthers) are an umbrella species. They require large, connected habitats. If we conserve pumas, we protect a myriad of plants and animals.

Pumas require landscape features such as boulders or patches of trees near gaps that allow them to stalk and then ambush their prey—they cannot live on the wide-open prairies or in dense forests. Unlike other native carnivores such as coyotes or wolves, their habitat needs are specialized.

Mountain lions are important top carnivores. They modulate their prey—helping to keep the balance of nature.

Females give birth to approximately three kittens every two years; yet, many of those youngsters die in a few months’ time from predation, disease, or starvation. Mother pumas invest between 11 to 18 months on raising their kittens. Newly emancipated kittens or those orphaned are the most likely to get into conflicts with humans or domestic livestock as they may not have yet established their own territories or honed their hunting skills.

In Colorado, recreational sport hunters kill approximately 375 cats per year. Their population in Colorado may contain about 5,000 animals (including 3,200 to 3,400 adults or subadults).

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