lions occasionally cause conflicts by attacking humans and
pets. Although attacks on humans are rare, Paul Beier, in
a 1991 Wildlife Society Bulletin article, reported 9 cougar
attacks that resulted in
10 human deaths and at least 44 nonfatal attacks in North
America between 1890 and 1990.
victims (64%) were children. A
mountain lion attacked and killed a 10-year old boy in Rocky Mountain
National Park and another lion attacked and injured a 4-year old
boy in Mesa Verde National Park in 1997. An 18-year old jogger was
killed by a mountain lion near Idaho Springs in 1991. Mountain lions
also kill a number of domestic sheep each year and occasionally
attack calves and llamas in Colorado.
information on biology and ecology of mountain lions and reducing
conflicts if you live in lion country, or come in close contact
with a lion, see the following Colorado Division of Wildlife bulletin:
WITH WILDLIFE IN LION COUNTRY
Much of Colorado, including the Front Range, is prime mountain
lion country. This simple fact is a surprise to 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
The mountain lion, commonly known as cougar, panther or puma,
exists only in the Western hemisphere and is one of North America's
biggest cats. In Colorado, population estimates range from 1,500
to 3,000 mountain lions. A lion's 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
The lion's 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.
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, it's probably a female with kittens.
The mountain lion's habitat ranges from desert, chaparral and
badlands breaks to subalpine mountains and tropical rain forests.
In 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
MATING AND BREEDING
Female lions generally reproduce when they are about 21/2 years
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
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.
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
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
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. 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
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 lion's instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand
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!
WHO DO YOU CALL
The Colorado Division of 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, please
immediately contact the Division of Wildlife, Monday through Friday,
8 am-5pm, as listed below. After hours, contact the Colorado State
Patrol or your local Sheriff's Department. To report a sighting,
please contact the Division of Wildlife during normal business
hours. Your information is very valuable to us.
Central Regional Office
6060 Broadway Denver, CO 80216
(303)291-7227 or 297-1192
Northwest Regional Office
711 Independent Ave. Grand Junction, CO 81505
Northeast Regional Office
317 W. Prospect Rd. Fort Collins, CO 80526
Southwest Regional Office
2300 S. Townsend Ave. Montrose, CO 81401
Southeast Regional Office
2126 N. Weber St. Colorado Springs, CO 80907 (719)473-2945 or
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
America's 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