Tense moments during a face-to-face mountain lion encounter were caught on camera on a Southern California hiking trail.
Mark Girardeau, who monitors wildlife cameras in the area, was hiking Friday afternoon with a companion in Orange County when he noticed a flash of brown that turned out to be a mountain lion running up a hill toward them. They found themselves about 10 feet from the big cat, which stopped and stared at the hikers.
The mountain lion can be seen on video, eyes firmly locked on them through bushes and branches.
The encounter lasted about two minutes, Girardeau said. During the standoff, Girardeau can be heard shouting, "Get back," several times at the mountain lion as the pair held their ground and then began backing away slowly — safety strategies recommended by wildlife officials.
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“Either she has a kill nearby and she was defending it or she ran up at his not realizing we were humans since she couldn’t completely see us from down 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 humans out to feed on and this is why it’s good to hold your ground because any prey item for mountain lions runs away.
The big cat eventually backed down.
Girardeau told NBCLA he is frequently checking trail and wildlife cameras at several locations, but has only seen two mountain lions before -- both from a much greater distance. Friday's close encounter was a first.
“This is the mountain lion’s home, we are simply visitors in it,” Girardeau added in his Instagram post.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife receives hundreds of mountain lion sighting reports each year. Few result in mountain lions being identified as posing an imminent threat to public safety, the department said. Mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare and their nature is to avoid humans.
More than half of California is considered mountain lion habitat. They generally are found wherever they can find deer, one of their primary food sources.
Here's a full list of recommendations from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife of what to do during a mountain lion encounter:
- Do not hike, bike, or jog alone. Stay alert on trails.
- Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active – dawn, dusk, and at night.
- Keep a close watch on small children.
- Off leash dogs on trails are at increased risk of becoming prey for a mountain lion.
- Never approach a mountain lion. Give them an escape route.
- DO NOT RUN. Stay calm. Running may trigger chase, catch and kill response. Do not turn your back. Face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms, or opening your jacket if wearing one; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.
- Do not crouch down or bend over. Squatting puts you in a vulnerable position of appearing much like a 4-legged prey animal.
- Be vocal; however, speak calmly and do not use high pitched tones or high pitch screams.
- Teach others how to behave during an encounter. Anyone who runs may initiate an attack.
- If a lion attacks, fight back. Research on mountain lion attacks suggests that many potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, garden tools, even an ink pen or bare hands. Try to stay on your feet. If knocked down, try to protect head and neck.
- If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.
- Report unusual mountain lion behavior to your local CDFW regional office.