Though mountain lions prefer to stay out of sight, can you tell whether they are wandering around near your campground or your favorite hiking trail? Can you tell their tracks apart from dog paw prints, or bobcat tracks? And do you know what to do if you encounter one while hiking in cougar territory?
Here’s a handy guide from the East Bay Times for identifying cougar tracks, and other tips for what to do if you meet up with one of these big cats.
Besides checking the tracks: Mountain lion waste may have the presence of bones, teeth and animal hair. It is usually about an inch and a quarter in diameter. They have been known to leave waste in areas to mark their kills.
Hike in groups: If you’re in mountain lion country, travel with others whenever possible. Make noise (to avoid sneaking up on the cougars) and keep children close at all times.
Stay away: In the rare event that you see a cougar in the wild do not approach it, and especially if it is eating or with cubs.
Stay calm and talk: In the even less likely event that a mountain lion approaches you, do not run away. Talk firmly to the animal, but give it a way to run off. Most mountain lions want to avoid confrontation with humans.
Other don’ts: Do not run. Do not turn your back.
Get big: Make yourself appear as big as possible; raise your arms. And pick up small children to prevent them from running. Throw rocks and sticks if necessary. Cougars have been driven away by prey that seems less easy to kill.
Sources: Winston Vickers, UC Davis Wildlife Health Center; National Geographic, California Fish and Wildlife, Mountain Lion Foundation; The Nature Conservancy