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If you are out for a hike, a mountain lion probably watches

If you are out for a hike, a mountain lion probably watches

Aug 16, 2013 - By Tom Lawrence, For The Associated Press

If you go for a hike in the mountains or a stroll in the forest, there is an excellent chance a mountain lion may keep you company for part of the trip.

That's one of the lessons Wyoming Game & Fish biologist Dan Thompson, who is in charge of protecting and studying Wyoming's large carnivores, offered during a recent presentation at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody.

"There's probably been a mountain lion watching you that you didn't even know was there," Thompson said.

That doesn't mean people should panic about a sudden cougar attack, he said. They are extremely effective killers, but they rarely prey on humans; he said there have been less than two dozen fatal attacks nationwide in recent memory.

However, Thompson offered advice to people on what to do if you encounter a mountain lion, as well as how to reduce the odds of that happening. It's something he routinely does during such presentations, he said.

Thompson said in the best case scenario, you will see a mountain lion from a distance. If that is the case, "enjoy the moment," he said.

However, if you come across one in a closer setting, there are several things you should do to reduce the risk. For one, make yourself appear as big as possible. Raise your arms -- stretch yourself out. Persuade the cougar to simply walk away.

Never run. That will only excite the animal and bring its predatory instincts to the fore. Slowly back away, keeping the lion in front of you, since mountain lions prefer to attack by biting on the base of its victim's skull.

If the big cat, for whatever reason, comes toward you, read the signals. Has it flattened its ears? It is hissing and snarling? If it prepares to pounce, you must defend yourself, Thompson said.

Strike it. Use a weapon, or pick up a tree branch to use to knock it back.

"Do not play dead," he said.

That technique has been known to work with bears, but Thompson said a mountain lion will just continue to attack its prey until it is dead and it can feed on it.

However, he emphasized that such a scenario is very rare. You can ensure it is even rarer by not taking walks in mountain lion-friendly territory alone, and not in the morning or at dusk, when the nocturnal creature is more likely to be active.

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