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Into the Lion's Den

It's summer, the time of year when people leave their towns, their cities, and head for the hills. But with more hikers, backpackers, and other nature lovers outdoors, the chance that one of them will cross paths with a Mountain Lion increases. And while these cats, the most widely distributed in the Americas, rarely attack humans, they nevertheless can be provoked.

The first rule to remember is that it's always wise to hike with a partner or, even better, with several people. This is especially true in the West and in the Florida Everglades, the two regions in North America where Mountain Lions still thrive. Likewise, children should not be allowed to wander off unattended. Of the relatively few humans hurt by Mountain Lions in recent years, the majority have been children.

Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid appearing like prey. A person bent over or crouched down will look more like a deer or Coyote or raccoon than someone standing upright. And a person who runs from a Mountain Lion once it's spotted will be responding like prey. For this reason, experts advise people to stand still and make eye contact with a Mountain Lion, even raise their arms and call out to the animal in a loud voice.

Still, there are those exceptional cases. Despite the best efforts of hikers and the natural tendency of Mountain Lions — that is, to avoid humans — attacks sometimes occur. In such instances, the best defense is a good offense. While individual Mountain Lions can weigh more than 200 pounds and leap more than 20 feet in a single bound, rocks, sticks, and jackets all have been used successfully to fend them off.