Mountain lion attacks rare, but cause for caution
On Friday, June 17 a mountain lion attacked a child in Pitkin County. Luckily the boy’s mother was nearby and, after hearing screams, was able to wrestle her child free of the animal’s jaws.
The story sparked international attention and was followed closely by an American public still reeling from two other recent tragedies involving small children and wildlife, one in a Cincinnati zoo and the other at Disneyworld in Florida. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) euthanized the mountain lion that attacked the young boy in Pitkin County shortly after the incident.
The attack last week has undoubtedly sparked concerns from state residents as to the level of danger potentially posed by mountain lions. Officials from CPW urge caution but said empathically that lions, “are not considered a problem.” Parks and Wildlife Public Information Officer Mike Porras explained.
“We live in an area with a robust lion population,” Porras said. “If lions were hunting humans there would be many more incidents. Coloradoans have lived near lions for a very long time and incidents are rare.”
According to Porras and statistics kept by CPW there have been three lion related fatalities in the state since 1990. The CPW web site states, “Lion attacks on people are rare, with fewer than a dozen fatalities in North America in more than 100 years. Most of the attacks were by young lions.” One occurred in Clear Creek County in 1991.
One incident occurred in 1999 in Larimer County. That incident involved a young boy hiking with his parents who got ahead of his group. The boy disappeared from the trail he was hiking on and was never found. A massive search for the child ensued and some mountain lion tracks were found but the child’s body was never recovered. Authorities believe the incident was the result of a mountain lion attack.
Another incident, somewhat famous in Grand County, occurred in 1997 in Rocky Mountain National Park. In circumstances similar to those that occurred two-years later in Larimer County a young boy was hiking in a group and got ahead of the rest of his party. The child was attacked by a mountain lion. When the lion attacked the boy vomited and then aspirated on his vomit, dying of asphyxiation. The mountain lion involved in that incident was killed after coming to reclaim the boy’s body and attacking Park Rangers.
“Lions are opportunistic predators,” said Porras. “It is important to know what to do if they (the public) encounter one.”
Parks and Wildlife recommends walking or hiking in groups in lion country and for hikers to carry a “sturdy walking stick” which can be used to ward off a lion if one does attack. Do not approach a lion if you see one. Do not run away from a lion, which could stimulate the animal’s instinct to chase and attack.
Staying calm and talking calmly and firmly to lions while backing away slowly is a good exit strategy if you encounter a lion. Making yourself appear as large as possible is also a good idea and if you have small children protect them by picking them up. That can also prevent the children from running away in fear.
If you see a lion that appears to be acting aggressively CPW suggests throwing stones, branches or anything you can get your hands on, without crouching, at the animal.
“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,” states the CPW web site.
The Pitkin County mother who saved her child last week exemplified the final advice offered by CPW’s web site. When a lion attacks fight back. “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.”
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