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Sustainable:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.

 

 

 

Living With Wildlife
in
Lion Country

 

Colorado Division of Wildlife*
March 3, 2003

 


Much of Colorado, including the Front Range, is prime mountain lion country. This simple fact is a surprise to
Mountain Lion drawing many residents and visitors. These large, powerful predators have always lived here, preying on plentiful deer and playing an important role in the ecosystem.

You may live in or recreate in lion country. Like any wildlife, mountain lions can be dangerous. With a better understanding of mountain lions and their habitat, we can coexist with these magnificent animals.

The mountain lion, commonly known as cougar, panther or puma, exists only in the Western hemisphere and is one of North Americaís biggest cats.  The Division of Wildlife estimates there are between 3,000 and 7,000 lions in Colorado, with the number most likely in the 4,500 to 5,000 range.

A lionís natural life span is probably about 12 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. Lions are very powerful and usually kill large animals, such as deer and elk. Natural enemies include other large predators such as bears, lions, and wolves. They also fall victim to accidents, disease, road hazards and people.

The status of the mountain lion in Colorado evolved from that of varmint, on which a $50 bounty was offered from 1929, to designation as a big game species in 1965. The change in legal status reflected growing public appreciation and concern for sound mountain lion management.

Physical Appearance

The lionís scientific name, Felis concolor, means "cat of one color." Mountain lions in this area are usually tawny to light-cinnamon in color with black-tipped ears and tail.

Mountain lions vary in size and weight, with males being larger than females. Adult males may be more than 8 feet in length and weight an average of 150 pounds. Adult females may be up to 7 feet long and weight an average of 90 pounds.

Mountain lions are easily distinguished from other wild cat species in Colorado. Lions are much larger than lynx or bobcats and have a long tail, which may measure one-third of their total, length.

 Tracks

In an unhurried walk, lions usually place the hind paw in the imprint made by the front paw. They have 4 toes with 3 distinct lobes present at the base of the pad. Generally claw marks are not visible since their claws are retractable.

Generally, the mountain lion is a solitary animal. Adult males almost always travel alone. If tracks indicate two or more lions traveling together, itís probably a female with kittens.

Habitat

The mountain lionís habitat ranges from desert, chaparral and badlands breaks to subalpine mountains and tropical rain forests.

Mountain LionIn Colorado, lions are found in areas of pinion pine, juniper, mountain mahogany, ponderosa pine and oak brush. Lions generally will be most abundant in areas with plentiful deer.

Individual lions range in areas varying in size from 10 to 370 square miles. Females with young kittens use the smallest areas; adult males occupy the largest areas.

Size of the home range depends on the terrain and how much food is available. Boundaries of male home range are marked with piles of dirt and twigs, called scrapes, which signal to other lions that this area is occupied.

Hunting and Feeding Habits

Lions are most active from dusk to dawn, although they travel and hunt in the daylight. Lions prefer to eat deer, however, they also kill elk, porcupines, small mammals, livestock and a variety of domestic animals such as pets.

Mountain lions prefer to kill their own prey. Like most cats, they take their prey by ambush rather than by a long pursuit. After spotting prey, a lion stalks using available cover, then attacks with a rush, often from behind.

Lions usually kill with a powerful bite below the base of the skull, breaking the neck. Lions drag the carcass to a sheltered spot beneath a tree or overhang to feed on it. They cover the carcass with dirt, leaves or snow and may return to feed on it over the course of a few days. generally, they move the carcass and re-cover it after each feeding.

Lions feeding on a kill can be dangerous to people. Lions that have been fed by people or seen "tame" may become aggressive unexpectedly.

Mating and Breeding

Female lions generally reproduce when they are about 2-1/2 years old.

Courtship begins when a roaming female in heat makes frequent sounds and leaves a scent that attracts males. After locating the female, the male accompanies her for just a few days when mating occurs.

Breeding can take place throughout the year but most females give birth between April and July, following a 3 month gestation period.

Birth to Maturity

The female gives birth to an average of 2 to 3 young called kittens. She usually chooses a secluded spot beneath an uprooted tree or a rocky depression. Care of the kittens rests solely with with the females. She defends them vigorously against males lions, which may kill them.

New born kittens are about 1 foot long and weigh about 1 pound. They are covered with blackish-brown spots and have dark rings around their short tails. The young stir only to nurse until they are about 2 weeks old, when their eyes open and they become alert and playful. Weaning occurs at about 2 months.

Kittens learn hunting skills through play and exploration, and by watching their mother. When the young are about 6 weeks old, she begins taking them to her kills to feed.

As the kittens mature, their spots fade. At 6 months, they weigh over 30 pounds and are becoming capable hunters. Kittens remain with their mother for another year, improving their hunting skills.

When Mountain Lions Meet People

Generally, lions are 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, 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 greater awareness of the presence of lions.

What to do 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.Mountain Lion in tree

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 of 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 childrenís 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 pets outside, keep it in a kennel with a secure top. Donít 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.

What to do if you Meet 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.

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 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 SLOWLY, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a lionís 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 youíre wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they wonít 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!

To Learn More About Mountain Lions

For the most part, people and wildlife can coexist. Coexisting with wildlife is an enjoyable part of living in Colorado. They key is to respect the wilderness of wildlife. You can learn more about lions by reading any of the following books.

A Critical Review of Literature on Puma, 1983, by A.E. Anderson, Division of Wildlife. Special Report #54

Americaís Great Cats, 1986, by Gary Turbak and Alan Carey, Northland Press, Flagstaff, AZ

Soul Among Lions: The Cougar as Peaceful Adversary, 1989, by Harley G. Shaw, Johnson Books, Boulder, CO

The Puma: Legendary Lion of the Americas, 1987, by J.B. Tinsley, Texas Western Press, El Paso, TX

The Wonder Series: Mountain Lion, A story and Activities by Sandra Chisholm Robinson, Denver Museum of Natural History, CO
_____
* Courtesy of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
March 3, 2003
See original at < http://wildlife.state.co.us/Education/LivingWithWildlife/LionCountry.asp >.

 

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