It's no secret that Idaho is known for its abundant and diversity of wildlife.
Yet to the surprise of some people, wildlife - including mountain lions - can be found in and around where people live.
Recent mountain lion sightings near Winchester should serve as a reminder to residents and visitors that they can expect to see lions anywhere in Idaho.
In the past few weeks, lions have been spotted outside of the community of Winchester.
"While sightings of Mountain lions in urban areas are rare, it's not unheard of," said Rick Cooper, senior conservation officer for Fish and Game based in Lewiston.
Because lions are territorial, young adults sometimes move into marginal, non-typical habitats, such as urban areas, looking for an unoccupied territory.
While mountain lions are elusive and tend to live in remote areas, the number of mountain lion/human interactions is likely to increase as more people move into lion habitat and deer populations increase near and within area communities. Also deer often move into the lush green irrigated areas near humans and mountain lions will follow. Because they are mostly nocturnal and very secretive, they are seldom seen.
"Most people in Idaho have never seen a mountain lion"
"Most people in Idaho have never seen a mountain lion, but given the number of people who live and recreate here, and the number of lions, there's always potential for an encounter," Cooper said.
To discourage wild animals, including mountain lions, from exploring their property, Idaho Fish and Game urges homeowners to follow these precautions:
- Do not attract wildlife, especially deer, into your yard by feeding them. Lions will be attracted to these prey animals.
- Landscape or remove vegetation that could provide hiding places for animals. Remove enough so that wildlife cannot enter your yard undetected.
- Roaming pets are easy prey. Bring pets in at night or put them into a kennel.
- Do not leave pet food outside as this may attract lions or other bothersome animals such as raccoons, and skunks that lions prey upon. Food and garbage will also attract bears, another unwanted guest.
- Install outdoor lighting to keep the house perimeter well-lit at night - especially along walkways - to keep any approaching mountain lions visible.
- If practical, secure livestock in enclosed sheds or barns at night.
- Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors, particularly in early morning and evening hours. Talk with children about lions and teach them what do if they meet one.
- Catching a glimpse of a mountain lion can be an exciting experience. Enjoy viewing them from a distance and give them adequate space. According to research, 17 human fatalities due to lions have been recorded in the past 118 years in the North America. Only one injury has been recorded in Idaho in the past 20 years.
"Remember, mountain lion sightings are rare and attacks are even rarer."
"Remember, mountain lion sightings are rare and attacks are even rarer. However, keeping yourself informed and prepared is the best way to avoid a confrontation," Cooper said.
While there is no response to a mountain lion that can guarantee a person's safety, Fish and Game offers the following suggestions that may help in avoiding a confrontation:
- Do not run. Stay calm and keep eye contact. Move slowly and try to back away. Running away may trigger the animal's instinct to chase.
- Remain in an upright position. Do not crouch down as mountain lions are more likely to go after shorter prey. Do what you can to appear large by raising and waving your arms or opening your jacket. Yell in a loud, firm voice.
- Never turn your back on a mountain lion. Always maintain eye contact and face the lion. Convince the lion that you are not a deer, which is the lion's chief prey.
- When you walk or hike in lion country, go in groups and make enough noise to avoid surprising a lion. While lions are not likely to approach humans, they are even less likely to approach a more threatening larger group.
- Keep children close and in sight at all times. Pick small children up if a lion is near.
- Never approach a mountain lion. Give the lion a way out of a close situation.
- If a lion behaves aggressively, arm yourself with a large stick, rock, or other object and face the lion. In the extreme case that a mountain lion attacks, remain standing and fight back with whatever object you have.
- Pepper spray is very effective in deterring a mountain lion and other carnivore attacks.
If you encounter a mountain lion, immediately notify Fish and Game (208) 799-5010 or your local sheriff's office. An encounter would include a lion demonstrating any unnatural behavior, such as showing no concern or reaction to the presence of people, or acting aggressively towards people or pets.