Fighting for Your Life

A spate of lion encounters has been in the news recently

By Rob Breeding

The lion tales keep getting stranger and stranger.

The latest story comes from Fort Collins, Colorado, where a man running in the foothills outside of town fought off a mountain lion attack, strangling the beast in the process. This is what’s known in the world of wildlife encounters as a good outcome.

The runner was apparently familiar with the news that human/lion encounters seem to be on the rise across the West. Reports suggest the runner had researched the topic and had taken precautions to protect himself. In this case the key to survival may have been that the young lion was a little less than stealthy. The runner reportedly heard the cat sneaking up behind him and was able to turn and defend himself.

The lion’s preferred method of take is to attack from behind, applying a lethal, spine severing bite before the victim has a chance to respond.

A spate of lion encounters has been in the news recently. Twice in January lions were spotted near school bus stops in the Bitterroot Valley: once near Florence and more recently near Hamilton. The Hamilton sighting was reported by residents living near Hamilton High School. The Florence cat was photographed by a parent.

Another lion made an appearance last month near a middle school in West Jordan, Utah.

A strange report earlier this month, from Mackay, Idaho, describes a woman who went outside to break up a dog fight in the yard. She grabbed one of the “dogs” then realized it wasn’t a dog at all, but a 35-pound mountain lion. According to the story reported by the Associated Press, she continued holding the cat while calling for her husband still inside to bring a gun. She held the 35-pound cat until he arrived and dispatched the beast with his firearm.

Count me as skeptical on this one. If you’ve ever tried to restrain a house cat, with an average weight of less than 10 pounds, you surely have scars to commemorate the event. I have a hard time imagining a mountain lion waiting patiently for dad to “arrive” with a gun. And that’s to say nothing of firearm safety issues. In case you’re confused, holding a wildly squirming mountain lion while your hubby shoots it is not an example of firearm safety.

There’s some debate regarding trends in lion populations, as they are notoriously hard to count. Regardless of whether you believe they are increasing or decreasing, there remain plenty of reasons you should take lion safety seriously.

Research indicates close encounters with lions are much more common than we realize. The cats linger whereever deer are plentiful, and that means just about any community in western Montana. Researchers have recorded radio-collared cats hidden near trails frequented by hikers and despite that young cat’s noisy mistake in Fort Collins, lions are experts at hiding their presence from humans. If you’ve taken a hike anywhere in western Montana chances are pretty good a lion was watching you at some point.

The fact that there are relatively few actual attacks on humans, and even fewer fatalities, suggests lions don’t normally consider naked apes as meal worthy. Wikipedia has a list of North American lion attacks that includes 27 fatalities, one of which was in Montana. Many of the fatalities were children, whose smaller size and erratic play probably sparks the lion’s prey drive.

But even if lions did lick their chops when they see us, we’re limited as to what we can do. Lions are ambush predators so it’s unusual to see them coming. But if you do, the Mountain Lion Foundation suggests you make yourself as large as possible, make noise, make eye contact to appear defiant, and don’t run but slowly back away.

And most importantly, as the Fort Collins runner demonstrated, fight back.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.

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