When Mountain Lions Meet People
Mountain lions are generally calm, quiet, and elusive. They tend to live in remote, primitive country. Lions are most commonly found in areas with plentiful deer and adequate cover. Such conditions exist in mountain subdivisions, urban fringes, and open spaces. Consequently, the number of mountain lion/human interactions has increased. This increase is likely due to a variety of reasons—more people moving into lion habitat, increase in deer populations and density, presumed increase in lion numbers and expanded range, more people using hiking and running trails in lion habitat, and a greater awareness of the presence of lions.
If You Encounter a Mountain Lion
People rarely get more than a brief glimpse of a mountain lion in the wild. 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, perhaps forced out to hunt on their own and not yet living in established areas. Young lions may key in on easy prey, like pets and small children.
Photo above: A bobcat - similar in some ways to a mountain lion, but what is the obvious difference? (Photo courtesy of the USFWS.)
No studies have been done to determine what to do if you meet a lion. But based on observations by people who have come upon lions, some patterns of behavior and response are beginning to emerge. With this in mind, the following suggestions may be helpful.
Remember: Every situation is different with respect to the lion, the terrain, the people, and their activity.
- When you walk or hike in mountain lion country, go in groups and make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. A sturdy walking stick is a good idea; it can be used to ward off a lion. Make sure children are close to you and within your sight at all times. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
- Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
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!
Check out the "Mountain Lion Safety" video at the top of page for more tips on dealing with lion encounters.
Who Do You Call?
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is responsible for managing, conserving, and protecting wildlife. Your concerns about wildlife are our concerns as well.
If you have an encounter with a lion or an attack occurs, immediately contact the Division of Wildlife, Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm, as listed below. Before or after these hours, contact the Colorado State Patrol or your local Sheriff's department.
To report a sighting, please contact the Division during normal business hours. Your information is very valuable to us.
CPW Headquarters (Denver): 303/297-1192
Northeast Region CPW Office (Denver): 303/291-7227
West Region CPW Office (Grand Junction): 970/255-6100
Southeast Region CPW Office (Colorado Springs): 719/227-5200
Southwest Region CPW Office (Durango): 970/247-0855
If You Live in Lion Country
We can live with these incredibly efficient predators if we respect mountain lions and their habitat. To reduce the risk of problems with mountain lions on or near your property, we urge you to follow these simple precautions:
- Make lots of noise if you come and go during the times mountain lions are most active—dusk to dawn.
- Install outside lighting. Light areas where you walk so you could see a lion if one were present.
- Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
- Landscape or remove vegetation to eliminate hiding places for lions, especially around children's play areas. Make it difficult for lions to approach unseen.
- Planting non-native shrubs and plants that deer often prefer to eat encourages wildlife to come onto your property. Predators follow prey. Don't feed any wildlife!
- Keep your pet under control. Roaming pets are easy prey and can attract lions. Bring pets in at night. If you leave your pet outside, keep it in a kennel with a secure top. Don't feed pets outside; this can attract raccoons and other animals that are eaten by lions. Store all garbage securely.
- Place livestock in enclosed sheds or barns at night. Close doors to all outbuildings since inquisitive lions may go inside for a look.
- Encourage your neighbors to follow these simple precautions. Prevention is far better than a possible lion confrontation.
Photo above: A mountain lion peering from behind a boulder. What is the most obvious difference in the faces of mountain lions and lynx? Or a bobcat? (Photo courtesy of the USFWS.)
Download and print the Living With Lions brochure and share it with your family, friends, and others in your neighborhood. It contains much of the information from this page and the next, and is a handy reference and reminder for anyone living in lion country.