Mountain lion incident offers reminders to public

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November 12th, 2008

Mountain lion incident offers reminders to public

In the aftermath of a recent human-mountain lion encounter in southern Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains, the Arizona Game and Fish Department offers tips for people who recreate or live in mountain lion country.

An unusual-acting mountain lion that had been stalking a hiker and his dog in the Madera Canyon area was located and killed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department on Oct. 26. The mountain lion had continued to act aggressively toward the hiker even when the person tried to scare it away.

“This strange-acting mountain lion posed a clear public safety threat,” said Leonard Ordway, the Tucson regional supervisor for the Game and Fish Department.

Ordway said that the hiker did the things he was supposed to – he shouted and tried to make himself look bigger by waving his arms, he picked his dog up off the ground, but the mountain lion continued to approach. The hiker then used his pistol to fire two warning shots, and the mountain lion continued to approach, at which time the hiker shot directly at the lion and the animal finally ran away.

Because of the animal’s aggressive actions toward a human, and in accordance with the department’s lion-human interaction management protocol that was developed in 2004 through extensive public process, immediate action was required to prevent any further public incident involving this animal.

The mountain lion was sent to a laboratory for examination and tests in an effort to find clues that might explain its abnormal behavior. The tests showed the mountain lion did not have rabies.

Ordway offered these safety tips for anyone who encounters a mountain lion or other large predator:

  • Do not hike, jog or ride your bicycle alone in mountain lion country: Go in groups, with adults supervising children.

  • Keep children close to you. Observations of captured wild mountain lions reveal that the animals seem especially drawn to children. Keep children in your sight at all times. 

  • Do not approach a mountain lion. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape. 

  • Do not run from a mountain lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If there are small children there, pick them up if possible so they don’t panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lion. 

  • Do not crouch or bend over: A person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal. When in mountain lion country, avoid squatting, crouching or bending over, even when picking up children.

  • Appear larger: Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Again, pick up small children. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.|

  • Fight back if attacked: Many potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.

Ordway also offered these tips for living in mountain lion country:

  • Don’t feed wildlife. By feeding deer, javelina or other wildlife in your yard, you may inadvertently attract mountain lions, which prey upon them.

  • Deer and rabbit proof your landscape. Avoid using plants that deer prefer to eat; if landscaping attracts deer, mountain lions may be close by. 

  • Landscape for safety: Remove dense and/or low-lying vegetation that provides good hiding places for mountain lions and coyotes, especially around children’s play areas. Make it difficult for wild predators to approach a yard unseen. 

  • Closely supervise children. Keep a close watch on children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about mountain lions and teach them what to do if they encounter one. 

  • Install outdoor lighting. Keep the house perimeter well lit at night – especially along walkways – to keep any approaching mountain lions visible. 

  • Keep pets secure. Roaming pets are easy prey for hungry mountain lions and coyotes. Either bring pets inside or keep them in a kennel with a secure top. Don’t feed pets outside – this can attract javelina, skunks and other mountain lion prey.

Mountain lions in Arizona are classified as a big game species and the department manages them as a renewable natural resource. Since 2000, the department has distributed an average of 8,100 hunting permits per year with an average annual harvest of 321 lions. Arizona’s mountain lion population is estimated at around 2,500 to 3,000 animals. Mountain lions are efficient predators capable of killing or seriously injuring humans, although attacks rarely occur. The department is committed to public education to help people learn how to behave responsibly and live safely in proximity to lions.

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