Tense moments during a face-to-face encounter with a mountain lion were filmed on a Southern California hiking trail.
Mark Girardeau, who monitors wildlife cameras in the area, was on a Friday afternoon hike with a companion in Orange County when he noticed a brown lightning bolt that turned out to be a mountain lion running towards them. They ended up about 10 feet from the big cat, who stopped and looked at the hikers.
The mountain lion can be seen on video, eyes firmly fixed on him through the bushes and branches.
The meeting lasted about two minutes, Girardeau said. During the standoff, Girardeau can be heard shouting “Go back” several times at the puma as the couple held on and then slowly began to back away – safety strategies recommended by wildlife officials.
“Either she has a kill nearby and she was defending him, or she ran towards him not realizing we were humans because she couldn’t fully see us from below,” Girardeau said in an Instagram post. “There were deer in the area that we saw, so she probably assumed it was them. Mountain lions do not seek out humans for food and that is why it is good to hold out because any prey for mountain lions will flee.
The big cat finally stepped back.
Girardeau told NBCLA he frequently checked trail and wildlife cameras in several places, but had only seen two pumas before, both at a much greater distance. Friday’s close meeting was a first.
“It is the home of the mountain lion, we are just visitors there,” Girardeau added in his Instagram post.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife receives hundreds of cougar sighting reports each year. Few of the results identify mountain lions as posing an imminent threat to public safety, the department said. Cougar attacks on humans are extremely rare and their nature is to avoid humans.
More than half of California is considered the habitat of the mountain lion. They are usually found wherever they can find deer, one of their main food sources.
Here is a full list of recommendations from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on what to do when encountering a mountain lion:
- Do not hike, bike or jog alone. Stay alert on the trails.
- Avoid hiking or jogging when pumas are most active – at dawn, dusk, and at night.
- Closely supervise small children.
- Dogs off-leash on the trails are at an increased risk of falling prey to a puma.
- Never go near a puma. Give them an escape.
- DO NOT RUN. Stay calm. Running can trigger a chase, capture, and kill response. Don’t turn your back. Face the animal, make noise, and try to appear taller by waving your arms or opening your jacket if you are wearing one; throwing stones or other objects. Pick up the little kids.
- Do not squat or bend over. Crouching puts you in a vulnerable position and looks a lot like 4-legged prey.
- Be vocal; However, speak calmly and do not use high-pitched tones or high-pitched shouts.
- Teach others how to behave in a meeting. Anyone running can launch an attack.
- If a lion attacks, retaliate. Research on cougar attacks suggests that many potential victims have successfully retaliated with stones, sticks, garden tools, even an ink pen or with their bare hands. Try to stay upright. In the event of a tip-over, try to protect your head and neck.
- If a cougar attacks a person, call 911 immediately.
- Report any unusual mountain lion behavior to your local CDFW regional office.