For Colorado Front Range Hikers, the winter of 2016 has brought with it a variety of cold, snow, ice, record warmth and mud, along with pervasive evidence of extensive mountain lion activity. The tracks of the feared predator also called the cougar and puma have been seen in the back country of the Pike National Forest , popular hiking areas like Red Rock Canyon in Colorado Springs and populated subdivisions in mountain communities including Woodland Park.
According to the Boulder Daily Camera, “An extensive study of mountain lions on the Front Range gradually nearing completion, has yet to put a number on the animals’ population here. But estimates suggest it might be at the higher end of what experts have long considered the likely numerical range. “Based on the captures we’ve had and some of our preliminary results, we’ll likely show the lion densities are toward the upper end of what’s been reported in the literature”, said Mat Alldredge, mammals researcher for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and leader of the Front Range Cougar Study focusing on Boulder and Jefferson counties. “The literature from all over the West has been between one and three, or almost four independent lions per 100 square kilometers, which isn’t very many when you think about it. I think we’re in the threes” Alldredge said.”
Also according to the Camera, “Dave Hoerath is a wildlife biologist for Boulder County Parks & Open Space, also involved in the project. He compared the county’s contribution to that of the city, primarily providing what he termed a canvas through its properties on which Parks and Wildlife can conduct its work. Hoerath stressed the absence in our area of attacks by the powerful animals on humans that the study has uncovered. “Whether there’s two lions or 22 or 222 lions, it doesn’t matter,” Hoerath said. “The lions are doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re pretty much being where they’re supposed to be, and they’re eating what they’re supposed to eat.””.
If you do experience the unlikely event of a mountain lion encounter, the official Parks and Wildlife website has this advice, “Stay calm when you come upon a lion. Talk calmly yet firmly to it. Move slowly. Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright. Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run. If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion. Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and their bare hands successfully. Remain standing or try to get back up.”.
While lions are a fearsome and dangerous predator, an encounter while hiking in the daytime is extremely unlikely. According to the Parks and Wildlife website, “People rarely get more than a brief glimpse of a mountain lion in the wild.“. There is no reason to indicate that hikers should be canceling their outings or that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of cats in 2016. The heavy snows of January and February have left behind a large amount of ice and mud that thaw during the day, capturing a wealth of animal tracks before refreezing at night. One big cat walking the trail every night can leave a lot of tracks over a period of days or weeks.
Advice to outdoor enthusiasts is be to just be vigilant, hike with others if possible, try not to be too stealthy while walking and avoid being out with your pets during prime hunting hours for the lions. Avoid leaving your pets out at night and according to the website Statesman.com, “If you are hiking with kids, have them walk in front of the adults because cats almost always attack from behind. Don’t let kids run off trails and yell and carry on. That just attracts the lions.“. Backcountryattitude.com says to leave your dogs at home if are planning on hiking in cougar country, “Dogs can attract or invite cougar attacks. Leave them at home.“. While that may not always be feasible, keeping them leashed, close and part of a larger group of people might be a prudent idea.