You may also have heard this creature referred to as a Cougar or Puma. These names are synonymous. By whatever name, these are striking, majestic animals. While attacks on humans are still rare, the last few years have shown an increase in occurrences of Mountain Lion attacks. As with most wildlife, the Mountain Lion´s habitat has been encroached upon by human settlement. This has obviously resulted in increased risk to both man and animal. Campers and backpackers would be wise to familiarize themselves with the characteristics of the Cougar, as well as with risk factors associated with venturing into their territory.
Identifying a Mountain Lion
The largest of Colorado´s cats, Mountain Lions can weigh between 130 and 160 pounds. On average, an adult will measure around 6 feet from nose to tail but some can grow as large as 8-9 feet. As their binomial name (Puma Concolor) suggests, Mountain Lions lack any identifying marks or color characteristics other than their light dusty brown coats and white patches on chest and chin. Very powerful front legs, neck and jaws along with large forepaws are used to clutch large prey.
Mountain Lion Family Life
Females will begin to breed after reaching one-and-a-half to three years of age. Mountain Lions can breed year round but typically mate in the spring. The gestation period is 14 weeks and usually results in a litter of two or three kittens. Only the female is involved in parenting. Kittens are completely dependent upon their mother. They are born blind and will remain in the litter den, often a cave or rock overhang, until weaned at around three months of age. Soon after this period young lions will begin to venture out with their mother. She will introduce them to kill sites and the young will begin to play in a manner which simulates stalking as a form of practice. At the age of 6 months the kittens will begin to hunt very small prey on their own. Juveniles will remain with their mother until two years of age, at which point they begin to search out their own territory. Males will typically leave sooner and venture farther away from the protection of their mother.
Mountain Lion Diet
The staple of the Mountain Lion diet is the Deer. An adult will typically kill and consume one Deer per week. The Lion will gorge itself and then cover the carcass with fallen leaves and pine needles. After feeding, a few days fasting is needed to rest and digest the food. Mountain Lions are active year round and are driven solely by hunger. They hunt by stealth, stalking and ambushing their prey under the cover of brush and rock. While Deer are the preferred prey, Mountain Lions are not finicky. They will hunt animals as small as rodents and even insects if food is scarce. The Cougar competes for food primarily with the Gray Wolf.
What To Do If You Encounter A Mountain Lion
In the unlikely event you should run into a Mountain Lion, STOP! Make no sudden movements. Speak very quietly to it and back away very slowly. Raise your arms up to make yourself look larger. If (and only if) the animal becomes aggressive, throw rocks or sticks at it. Do not crouch down or turn your back when retrieving a weapon. If it comes down to it, fight back. Prey far smaller than you have been known to fight off Mountain Lions.
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