Arizona's mountains provide a prime habitat for mountain lions. While encounters with mountain lions are rare, it's important to know what to do should you come face-to-face with one of these large cats.
Lisa Haynes, coordinator of the University of Arizona's Wild Cat Research and Conservation Center, offers the following tips:
- Absolutely DO NOT run. "It's like a cat and a string. If you're moving fast, you could elicit that predator response" and may actually encourage the cat to chase you, Haynes says.
- Stand your ground and maintain eye contact, even if the cat moves toward you. Just as if a strange dog ventures into your yard at home, "you want to give the impression that you're dominant in this situation," Haynes says. "You're the top dog there. You're the top animal."
- Try to look as large and tall as possible. "If you have a coat you can open it up, and perhaps put your arms out," Haynes says.
- "The other thing you can do is throw objects, like a water bottle or a pack," Haynes says, but don't bend down to pick up anything.
- Keep small children close by, or carry them. "While hiking it's really important to keep little kids close," Haynes says. "Don't let them run ahead on the trail."
- If the mountain lion attacks you, fight – but that's not likely to happen, Haynes says.
Given their shy and elusive nature, "it's only exceedingly rare incidences where mountain lions may eventually be a threat to people. They don’t consider us as prey, which is a good thing," Haynes says.
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, mountain lions, which are indigenous to southern Arizona, are most likely to stay around food sources such as deer, javelina or livestock, and water sources, such as swimming pools or ponds and streams. They might also seek shelter in cave-like areas beneath overhangs.
Haynes notes that many injuries or accidents involving wildlife occur because people react to something they perceive as a threat that is really not a threat at all. Therefore, when venturing into the desert, even on a short walk, it is best to go forth with awareness of your surroundings, she says.
"Anytime we're walking or hiking in the backcountry we are in high-quality mountain lion habitat. It's our responsibility to do all the right things and to be aware and coexist with these animals."