Facts about mountain lions
Adults have a tan or reddish brown to dusky or slate gray coat; young have numerous black spots that mostly disappear with age.
Their long tail is about two-thirds of body length. They weigh about 70-150 pounds, and stand 25-32 inches tall at the shoulder (similar to a German shepherd dog), and can be up to eight feet long.
They can live up to 13 years in wild, but average less than 6 years. Territory sizes range from 10 to 150 square miles.
They typically stalk and ambush prey from high vantage points like trees or rock ledges.
They can jump 20 feet upwards and 40 feet horizontally in a single leap.
Shy and elusive, people do not often meet mountain lions face to face. That doesn’t mean they are not present in the forests and neighborhoods of Prescott.
Joel Schossow and his family were enjoying Goldwater Lake at dusk this past Friday, March 24, when they saw something that froze them in their tracks.
They had been playing in the waterfall where the creek feeds into the lake. Heading back to the parking lot, Schossow thought the children, a 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, were within a safe distance.
“My daughter was little bit behind us, 6 to 10 feet. My wife looked around to check on her and saw the mountain lion coming straight at her. We froze,” Schossow said.
Then he and his wife started screaming and yelling, the kids were “crying like crazy.” Schossow said the lion was crouched down as if to attack, but then scampered back six feet before turning around again and looking at them.
“We picked up the kids and it started walking away, then it got closer and watched us the whole way back to the parking lot,” he said.
Hike or walk in groups and make some noise when you’re outside. Supervise children, especially between dusk and dawn.
Keep domestic pets, poultry, goats and rabbits inside or in a secured enclosure with a sturdy roof. Walk your pets on a leash.
Don’t feed your pets outside. Don’t feed wildlife. It’s illegal.
Remove dense vegetation around your home.
What to do
If you do come close to a mountain lion, don’t run. Their instinct is to chase you.
Most will try to avoid you; give them a way to escape.
Stay calm, speak loudly and firmly. Stand and face the animal; make eye contact. Protect small children so they won’t panic and run.
Convince the lion you are not easy prey. Make yourself larger by raising your arms, spreading your jacket. Wave your arms slowly.
Throw stones, branches, whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back.
Slowly back away toward a building, vehicle or busy area. Don’t stop to take a photo.
Fight back if attacked. Mountain lions will try to bite the head or neck; try to remain standing and face the animal. Use whatever you can find to fight with – rocks, jackets, tools, even mountain bikes.
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department website, Schossow and family did a few things right: they did not run, they stood and faced the animal, and they made noise. Schossow also said he tried to make himself look larger.
“Adrenaline is an amazing thing. I wasn’t scared the whole time. But then this weekend, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking how it could have been life-changing,” he said.
Mountain lions have always lived here; this is their habitat and hunting grounds. Problems occur because their territory is shrinking as human development expands. This can lead to conflicts.
Lions will stay in the area if they have access to food, water or shelter. Food includes deer, javelina, rabbits, domestic animals or livestock. Water exists in fountains, ponds or a pet’s water bowl. Drought and wildfires may push mountain lions closer to urban areas.
People who provide food for deer are only attracting mountain lions to their neighborhood, and it’s illegal to do so, said Fish and Game Field Supervisor Darren Tucker. The department gets a steady stream of lion sighting calls.
Reporting a sighting
“Somebody is driving home and a lion crosses the road. It’s not at all unusual. Most of Prescott is actually pretty good lion habitat,” he said, adding that sighting reports come in spurts, but seem to average two calls a week.
Officials will enter sightings into the data system, but seldom take action unless lions exhibit stalking behaviors or are seen repeatedly near a school.
“If deemed dangerous or threatening behavior, we may take action to capture that animal,” he said.
The department considers removing/killing a mountain lion as a last resort. Relocation is rarely successful and usually ends in severe injury or death to one or more lions occupying the new territory. A person may only harm a lion in self-defense or to defend another person.
For Schossow, he said, on future outings, he and his wife will make sure the kids remain right between them at all times.
Roaming the neighborhood
Audrey Lock, who said she gets a number of deer and javelina in her neighborhood - which is near Country Club and Highland Drive in the Hassayampa Country Club area of Prescott. She believes she saw a mountain lion on Monday, March 27. At the time, a deer was eating blossoms off her crab apple tree, and she saw an animal cross the road in front of the house.
“I’m not sure it was a mountain lion, but it sure looked like a big cat with a very long tail,” she said.
The public is advised to report any sightings to the Arizona Game and Fish Department office during weekday hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Kingman office, 928-692-7700, covers Prescott. On weekends or after hours, report to a dispatcher at 623-236-7201.
For more information on mountain lions and other wildlife, visit azgfd.com.