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Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

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Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby IHikeLikeAGirl » Sun Mar 24, 2013 8:42 pm

I was hiking up Longs Ranch Rd this morning (very isolated), near Manitou Springs, with aspirations of heading to Barr Camp with my dog, when I saw mountain lion tracks.

There were a few inches if fresh snow on the road from the previous night. Ahead of me was one trail runner guy with a medium-small dog and one other set of foot prints. Based on the tracks, the other person looked like a trail runner, who ran up this morning, and did not have a dog.

The guy with the dog, turned around, shortly after passing me and headed back down.

Shortly after seeing where the guy/dog duo turned around, I saw only the solo trail runner's prints heading up, and then fresh mountain lion prints in the snow. For those familiar with LLR, this was just beyond the 1st "J pipe". The tracks were heading down. They entered from the woods, traveled down the road quite away, and eventually exited the road into the woods on the opposite side. My dog was intensely interested in the scent of the tracks and had her tail down (which is odd for her, smelling wildlife usually excites her). She does not care about other dog tracks, only wild life and these tracks were huge. I had no doubt what I was looking at.

Having read up on, but never experienced this before, I wasn't sure what to do and was worried about my leashed dog. Initial reaction was to head down, but that didn't make sense, given that the tracks were heading down. I wanted to warn the guy with the dog, but wouldn't have been able to catch up to him. I debated about unleashing my dog, just in case something happened to me, to give her a chance to get away without her leash being caught on a bush. But then, I didn't want her surprising a mountain lion either....

I picked up a long pointed branch (not that it would have done any good) and decided to keep heading up. I rationalized that it was 10a (not the time that mountain lions "typically" hunt), the tracks were headed down and could have been an hour old by the time I saw them, and I kept my dog leashed. I kept looking all around as we hiked up and prayed that the large pawed one was just seeking a place to nap after the morning's kill.

I just needed another 40 min (as opposed to over 75-90 min down) and then I could take a cutoff trail to Barr trail where there would be more traffic.

So, we ventured on, I remained vigilant, made it to Barr Camp, and then headed down Barr Trail, without incident.

My question is: Did my logic make sense? What would you have done in that instance?

I just hope the guy with the dog remained blissfully ignorant on his run down and enjoyed his run.
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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby schrund » Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:26 pm

I think if you got a good result, then you made the right decision. One has to make those decisions while on the mountain facing whatever you know right in the moment, you did and it worked. Nicly done.
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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby Scott P » Sun Mar 24, 2013 10:22 pm

Anyone who gets to see the mountain lion, would be considered lucky as attacks are very rare and it's hard to get a glimpse of a mountain lion (I think I've seen them twice in my whole life).

It sounds like you did a logical thing and it is very good that the dog was in a leash.

Anyway, although I haven't seen that many mountain lions, I do see many fresh tracks of them. One of the most memorable times was hiking in the remote Sam Pollock Canyon in Utah. Aaron, in our group was the fastest, so was a few minutes ahead. The other three of us were a little behind and stopped to look at some impressively big mountain lion tracks. They were really nice tracks and then we noticed that one of them was inside Aaron's footprint. Obviously, the mountain lion was close and following Aaron (they apparently do follow people out of curiousity). When we reached the arch where Aaron was waiting for us, he said he never saw the lion. Neither did we.
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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby Dancesatmoonrise » Sun Mar 24, 2013 10:48 pm

Both times I've seen a big cat in the wild were on the western slope. Up close and personal. Not sure about the dog, but like Scott said, you'd be lucky to see one.

The first time I was on my bike. I kept going. He crossed the trail in front of me. It was the right thing to do. I did get that "look over the tail" thing as he gazed back at me.

The second time was nine days later in the Flattops wilderness, first day of a four-day backpack trip, solo. This time I had the honor of being growled at. Sounds just like your house cat, only, ah, bigger. Then she slunk off down hill through the tall flaxen August grasses. I didn't see her again but remained vigilant through the rest of the canyon - and took a different route when I came back out. : )

Most of the time they won't hurt you.

I lived with a half-bobcat for 16 years. (She passed three years ago.) They're incredible animals, and certainly command respect. Interestingly, I've found them to be far more social and courteous than many two-legged beasts I've met.

When I bumped into the cat in the grass in the Flattops, I figured, if she wants to eat me, there's not a lot I'm going to do about it - and what an honor - but she took off, instead - so that was not the intention. Isn't it funny how we humans have so much technological advancement, we feel we own the earth and everything within our vision and beyond, but when a feline comes along we're threatened. It's the reason the puma is nearly extinct - their ranks suffered active genecide at the hands of the early settlers, mostly due to fear of this remarkably capable predatory being.

But honestly, like Scott said, most of the time, they don't even want to be seen by humans, much less eat them. You did the right thing. Turning the dog loose might have been good, but it may also have been bad. If the cat wanted the dog, it would have been a done deal, and you presented a more unified, difficult target by being together. They're like gorilla fighters. They will rarely strike unless the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor.

Sorry for rambling - I find these guys fascinating.

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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby TallGrass » Mon Mar 25, 2013 12:24 am

schrund wrote:I think if you got a good result, then you made the right decision.
I can think of a lot of bad decisions where people got off easy or lucked out. "[Heuristics] work well under most circumstances, but in certain cases lead to systematic errors or cognitive biases."

Most large wildlife only gets to pass on its genes by steering clear of humans. A carnivore not doing so can lead them being perceived as a nuisance, then threat, then shot. Kind of like believing there's intelligent life on other planets by; the fact that they've chosen to avoid contact with humans proves it.

If you've had cats and dogs, think of a bear attack like a dog in that you're likely to get some noise/warning, whereas cats stalk and ambush with stealth going for the quick kill (neck) or immobilization (legs, tendons) with little to no warning and usually from behind or above (blindsiding). If the cat is stopped facing you, I'd suspect it feels cornered or is defending it's kill or litter. The only novel defense I've heard of is a friend who packed a hand-held airhorn among the gear on his bike. He had nothing else so waited until it got with a couple feet of his bag then blasted it. Hurt his ears but he didn't care as he was laughing so hard seeing Yogi punch a proverbial hole through the forest to escape. Do a web search and you'll find more on kitty defense.
http://www.mountainlion.org/portalprotectencounters.asp
http://www.mountainlion.org/portalprotectstaysafe.asp
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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby pw » Mon Mar 25, 2013 9:19 am

A leopard and mountain lion are probably close to equivalent, this is a pretty scary photo of what they are capable of.

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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby IHikeLikeAGirl » Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:19 am

Thank you. My thinking was along the lines of the postings here. I think mountain lions are incredible animals and (most likely) want to avoid people too. I also believe that if any humans go into their territory, then, there are some risks and one must abide by nature's rules. Just didn't know if I was being too naïve in my thinking/actions.

Other thoughts that went through my head were:
- A zookeeper once told me, that given all the time I spent on trails on and around Pikes Peak that I'd probably had a few close encounters with the big cats and didn't even realize it. Said I probably came across as "too confident" for it to mess with. :)

- I assumed, that if it wanted to get me or my dog, that yeah...probably would have been a done deal (as shown by the leopard pic). Which oddly enough was somewhat of a comfort. So, after ~20 min had passed, and we were both quite intact, I figured it was long gone, but still remained vigilant.

- There was a mountain lion napping in a neighbor's tree last summer. Someone called the Wildlife Div and was shocked at how cavalier the ranger was on the phone. He told her to leave it alone and it would move on when it got dark. And it did, without incident.

- It seemed that there had been no mountain lion attacks on a human in Colorado for decades so, that was some comfort. Dogs however, were a different story....

- There were tons of deer and rabbit tracks around. :)

- I was far easier to catch than a deer or a rabbit. :(

Most of the above boded well for me...just not so good for my dog. I was really counting on that it had already eaten. :wink:

Given the proximity of where the guy and his dog had turned around and where the tracks left the road, I do wonder if the cat was trying to avoid the guy coming up.

Anyway, thanks for the interesting stories and information.
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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby Jim Davies » Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:24 am

I don't know if you saw this; hopefully it won't make you more worried. FWIW, the cat was euthanized because it was acting too aggressive around humans, so wilder cats might not have done this.
http://www.gazette.com/articles/dog-152434-owner-lion.html
Five days after a Dachshund was snatched by a mountain lion as its owner walked the dog, neighbors near the scene talked about cougars in the area.

The dog was grabbed and eaten in a gated community off Star Ranch Road by the large male cat. The lion yanked the leash from the owner’s hands and ran off with the pooch.
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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby Rarefied » Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:28 am

Scott P wrote:.... attacks are very rare and it's hard to get a glimpse of a mountain lion

That has been my experience, too -- 'have encountered tracks twice but never the creature.

But it can play out differently. This reminded me of the story about the ranger near Weston Pass back in '05. (The first ~5-6 sentences and last ~5-6 sentences are the relevant ones.): http://www.denverpost.com/ci_2974459?rss

Or this especially sad one (during daylight hours) where a mountain lion was strongly suspected to be involved: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-558008.html

Dancesatmoonrise wrote:.... you presented a more unified, difficult target by being together.

I think he's on to something with this. Had your dog been unleashed the result might have come down to how much -- or little -- success the cat had during its overnight hunt. (While you indicated it seemed to be moving away from you, I would have been concerned about it possibly smelling my dog and having enough interest to double-back on me.)

All that aside, we're all very glad your story went the way it did.

R

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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby CarpeDM » Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:30 am

Valerie,
I think you did fine. I can relate my lion story for what it's worth. Just a month ago, I saw a mountain lion for the first time. I was hiking down from Bear Peak in Boulder and was at the junction of the Bear Peak West Ridge trail and the Green Bear trail. I looked up toward Green Mountain and saw a HUGE mountain lion heading quickly in my direction. It was off trail, but it didn't seem to be in attack mode or anything - it never looked directly at me as far as I could tell - although I'm sure it knew I was there. I quickly pulled my dog closer to me (he was on leash) because I was afraid he might start barking, causing an aggressive response from the lion. My dog never did notice it. And I could also imagine that the lion might've run away, too. Anyway, just at that moment, a jogger was coming up the trail (uphill). I waved him down and pointed. He saw the lion for about a second; I saw it for about 3-4 seconds before it disappeared toward the west. I stood there talking to the jogger for about 5 minutes. He was afraid to continue in the same direction that the lion went (can't say I blame him). Finally, I started again in the direction of my car (away from the lion's path). Just as I started hiking again, I saw another jogger coming down from Green Mountain (i.e., coming the same direction that the lion had been going). It's speculation, but I'm guessing that the lion was running away from the second (downhill) jogger.

The point is: I agree with others who said that lions don't really want to be around humans, aren't likely to attack in most situations, and you'd be lucky to see one. I know that after the initial heart palpitations from seeing the thing coming right toward me, I was just in awe.
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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby jdorje » Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:37 am

How often do dogs or other pets get attacked/eaten by lions? I've always been told they're at much greater risk, but never seen numbers anywhere.

Children are supposed to be at much greater risk too, yet I do not think a child has been attacked/killed by a lion in (at least) decades in Colorado.

It is natural to assume from seeing tracks that a mountain lion is nearby. But what's irrational is to assume when you don't see tracks, that no mountain lion is nearby. From my reading, each lion has a range of 10-100 square miles (probably closer to 10 in the deer-rich forests of the Rockies) and everywhere in the west is within the range of two mountain lions (male and females have overlapping ranges). Seems like it is a safe bet there's a mountain lion within 2 miles of you at all times in Colorado? Which makes the lack of attacks all the more impressive.

Also from my reading...the mountain lion's closest living relatives are the cheetah and the housecat. Its relation to the big cats (such as the leopard and jaguar, which would seem like natural comparisons) is much looser. I guess mountain lions are a lot less aggressive than housecats, which would be an unholy terror on humanity if they were similarly sized.
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Re: Mountain Lion Question - What would you do?

Postby CarpeDM » Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:45 am

There has been at least one mountain lion attack on a human in Colorado since 2000. I distinctly remember hearing about this.

A young boy was attacked on a trail around Flagstaff mountain when out for a stroll with 7 other people! The boy only sustained relatively minor injuries, though.

* Edited to ad "on a human."
"Skepticism is the first step towards truth." - Denis Diderot
"It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition." - Bertrand Russell
"Tell people there's an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure." - George Carlin
"Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory And I ain't saying it ain't a fact. But I've heard that I'm on the road to Purgatory And I don't like the sound of that.
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly. But I choose to let the mystery be" - Iris Dement

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