Species Spotlight: Mountain Lion

April 14, 2011, 11:08 am

The mountain lion is one of the most beautiful, feared and respected species of the West. These rarely seen predators once roamed the entire west but now due to habitat lose, they must travel far and wide in search of home and prey.

Mountain lions are solitary animals hunting mainly whitetail deer. Rarely spotted by humans, mountain lions are also extremely territorial and avoid other mountain lions except when mating.

The history between mountain lions and humans has been a tenuous one. Farmers and ranchers often sought out and hunted mountain lions because they preyed on livestock. As a result, poaching and threats to habitat have made it tough for mountain lions to survive. The mountain lion is also a prime example of the disruption in an ecosystem that can occur when one species struggles. Because of a dwindling mountain lion population, the whitetail deer population in many areas has rebounded significantly.

Although mountain lions rarely attack humans, when hiking or traveling visitors should be wary. Follow the tips listed below to ensure that your visit is safe and enjoyable:

• Watch children closely. Never let them run ahead or lag behind on the trail. Talk to children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
• Avoid hiking or walking alone.
• Store food per park regulations.
• Do not leave pets or pet food outside or in a vehicle and unattended, especially at night. Pets attract mountain lions into developed areas.
• Never approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most lions will try to avoid a confrontation, so always give them a way to escape.
• Don’t run. Stay calm. Hold your ground or back away slowly. Face the lion and stand upright. Do all you can to appear larger: Grab a stick, raise your arms, open your jacket and spread it above your head, and if you have small children with you, pick them up.
• Wave your arms, shout and throw objects to convince the lion that you are not prey and may be dangerous.
• If attacked, fight back!

The chances of encountering a mountain lion are rare but it is best to be prepared. The following are some fun facts you may not know about mountain lions.
• The Florida panther is a subspecies of mountain lion and is critically endangered with an estimated population of less than 100.
• There are an estimated 30,000 mountain lions in the western part of the U.S.
• Mountain lions often travel several miles in search of food and almost always hunt alone.
• Mountain lions often have 2-4 kittens per litter.

Image Source: NPS