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Hidden mountain lion

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Warnings signs encourage people not to hike alone in Zion National Park because a mountain lion might kill a lone hiker. I read about the occasional person being killed by a mountain lion. In a mountainous area near Denver, a woman had a home daycare where a cougar tried to take a child from her fenced backyard. The woman sprang into attack on the lion that grabbed a child. She successfully fought off the animal with bare hands. Neither she nor child suffered life-threatening injuries. Not all stories end as well.

A cougar researcher employed by the forest service lived in Alaska with her parents. From their home, she cross-country skied a regular route. Predators pay attention to such behavior as part of their hunting strategy. They plan ahead in anticipation for where they can secure prey.

Evidence of the young woman’s death indicated she suddenly picked up her pace before being taken from behind. It must have been horrifying for her parents to find her when she did not return home. Her father mourns the loss deeply but said she died researching the species she loved. They do not fault the cat for its nature niche life style and said their daughter agreed. 

I reluctantly share such stories for fear they will frighten people from being outdoors. It gives people a reason to want large predators removed from wild places. In the case of the daycare, homes were built in wild country. It is still extremely rare for lions to attack people but it is an everyday occurrence for people to be killed in car collisions. We should fear being in car more than being taken by a lion. 

Safe hiking precautions are advised in lion country. One of those precautions is to travel in groups instead of solely like the girl in Alaska. I like long solo hikes. When alone any mishap could be life threatening. Traveling in groups is always safest. I follow most safety guidelines except when it comes to solo hiking. 

Karen drove me to a remote area in Zion National Park where I departed on a 10-mile hike through wilderness to the Virgin River. A sign advised against hiking alone because lions inhabit the area. The sign is meant to protect the park service as well as the hikers. There have been no lion attacks on people or pets in the park. 

When hiking alone in the backcountry, I need to be especially cautious. My senses must be on high alert. I must be ready for the unexpected at all times. For the lion country hike, I carried my hiking staff for safety more than for balance. When I approached trees near the trail, I looked for a hidden cougar waiting to pounce from above on a lone hiker. I was not fearful, anxious, or worried. I was pleased to be where I needed to use my senses to the fullest. It was wonderful to be a part of nature instead of being apart from nature. 

My hike did not end in tragedy. My greatest fear was that if a lion killed me, the lion would be killed because I made myself available for its meal. The lion has more right in its home than I do. My death would be my fault and responsibility if a cougar attacked because I hiked alone. I feared putting the lion’s life in danger.

Keep in mind that you are safer hiking alone in lion country than driving to it or even to the grocery to get your meal. It is more likely you will be killed or injured traveling to wild country in your vehicle than while enjoying the splendor of the outdoors on foot. Hidden mountain lions should not be feared. Hike with another person or in groups to reduce vulnerability to all dangers.  

When I worked at Bryce Canyon National Park, our youth summer crew camped in a remote area where they worked. They got water from the pond where a lion visited to drink. They enjoyed seeing and hearing the lion. There was never a conflict incident. 

Head to lion country for a safe hike. Hopefully, you will survive the more dangerous road trip getting there.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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