Mountain Lion Attacks Are Rare, But Highlight More Overlap Between Humans, Predators

Feb 10, 2019
Originally published on February 6, 2019 8:46 am

The Colorado trail runner who killed a mountain lion with his bare hands did exactly what he should have, according to David Baron. The Boulder-based science writer is the author of the book, “The Beast in the Garden,” about the growing clash between people and wild animals.

“With a mountain lion, you do not want to play dead,” Baron said. “If a mountain lion attacks you, it’s not because it’s defending its kittens. It’s not because it feels threatened, unless you maybe cornered it. If a mountain lion attacks you, almost always it’s because that lion, on that day, has decided that you look like prey.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials said the man was running alone at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space near Fort Collins when the lion attacked him. Using his hands and feet, the man was able to essentially choke the animal, killing it. The runner, who has not been identified, sustained serious injuries to his head and wrists, but was able to hike more than a mile out of the area before driving himself to a hospital.

CPW spokeswoman Rebecca Farrow said while the story is gripping, it’s also extremely rare.  In nearly 30 years, Colorado has only had 16 injuries as a result of mountain lion attacks, three of which were fatal.

“It’s probably more likely that somebody would be injured in a vehicle accident on their way to a trailhead than be injured by a mountain lion,” Farrow said.

Baron agreed that mountain lion interactions are still relatively rare, but he said they may be increasing.

“There are a lot more people in Colorado than there used to be,” he said. “But there are also a lot more lions than there used to be 30 or 40 years ago.”

Mountain lions were a bountied predator in the state until 1965, Baron said. Now they are a protected game species and hunting them is highly regulated.

While it’s impossible to get the exact number of mountain lions in Colorado, Farrow noted that the state does have a “healthy” population.

“So you’ve got more lions in Colorado than you had 100 years ago, and you’ve got a lot more people in Colorado,” Baron said. “So of course you’re going to have the two overlapping more.”

In his book, Baron focused on the late 1980s and ’90s when Colorado saw several high-profile mountain lion attacks, including an 18-year-old killed while running on his high school track in Idaho Springs.

While people encroaching on wildlife is part of the problem, he said, it’s actually more complicated than that.

“We have created — in many cases — really a perfect landscape for these predators to live in,” Baron said.

People are more aware of things like trash and outdoor barbecues attracting bears, but something as simple as a well-landscaped yard or garden can lure deer which, in turn, draws mountain lions, he said.

Wildlife agencies are experimenting with different deterrents, including aversion therapy, he said. That includes shooting animals that come into contact with humans with rubber buckshot or bean bags, rather than killing or tranquilizing them.

“We need to teach the animals to stay away from us,” Baron said. “Because when they come in to where we are, it’s not good for us and it’s not good for them.”

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