The ripped apart bloody remains of the deer were the first sign. The giant paw prints in the snow, showing five distinct pads were the second sign. Make no mistake — the Rocky Mountains of Colorado are mountain lion habitat.
Living in the Sierra Mountains of California and now the Rockies of Colorado, I’ve seen my fair share of wildlife. Heck, in the span of two days this past week, I saw moose, bighorn sheep, and elk as I drove from Nederland to Winter Park. But for me, one animal symbolizes wilderness and its perils more than any other — the mountain lion. And yet, it is the only wild animal that calls this area home that I have yet to see in person. And apparently I’m not alone, since one of their nicknames is “ghost cat.”
I read a saying once — “for every one mountain lion we (people) see, a hundred mountain lions have seen us.” I have not doubt this is true. Too many times, I have been out hiking, and sensed something was watching me. I could never catch sight, yet I could not shake the feeling of eyes gazing upon me as potential prey. Add to that the time of day most mountain lions are stalking their pray is after the sung does down, and it’s easy to see why these animals are so seldom seen.
Perhaps this is why people fear mountain lions more than any other wild animal they may encounter. Though bears, moose, elk, deer all dwarf a mountain lion in their size, they are not considered predators. Most adult mountain lions are similar in size to the average male — 180 pounds or so. And yet, what athleticism they pack into that tawny body.
According to the book, “Forest Cats of North America”, mountain lions can jump up to 18 feet high in a single bound. Which makes it easy for them to leap up into the forest canopy where they can look down upon their prey without them seeing the lion.
They can also pounce up to 30 feet in distance in one leap. And they can sprint up to 45 miles per hour. They are no slouch in the weight lifting department either, being able to take down a 600–pound elk by leaping upon it, breaking its neck and using their strength to pull it down.
I’ve often thought of mountain lions as the Olympic athletes of the animal kingdom, although they would probably win the gold medal in the decathlon for the multitude of skills and abilities they have.
Their skill and mastery of the hunt amaze me and leave me in awe as to what they can do.
So, yes, like many others, I have a bit of fear concerning mountain lions. But when you consider that according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 3000-7000 mountain lions make their home in Colorado, and there have been just a handful of attacks in the last 100 years, our fears are ill-conceived. You have a much greater chance of dying from a lightning strike than a mountain lion attack, and yet most people don’t worry about that!