Revealed: The secret life of mountain lions

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Recent mountain lion conflicts in the past few days have certainly caused concern for some backcountry users who might be wondering if a cause or correlation can be drawn that would explain the out-of-character behavior for an animal that is typically extremely reclusive.

On Monday, a trail runner in Colorado fought off and eventually killed an 80-pound mountain lion with his bare hands after it attacked him. Days later, an Idaho woman pulled apart what she thought was another dog fighting with hers. It turned out to be a juvenile male mountain lion weighing about 35 pounds.

What’s going on here? After decades of co-existence are mountain lions suddenly turning on us? Or are these a couple of isolated unrelated incidents?

What have we learned about lions?

Leslie Patten (Courtesy)

Author and naturalist Leslie Patten might just be able to lend some keen insight into what we’ve been seeing lately with mountain lion behavior.

Patten’s latest book, Ghostwalkers: Tracking a Mountain Lion’s Soul, covers a lot of ground beginning with an attempt to answer some meaty questions. What is the essence of a mountain lion? Where do they go and what do they do?

Patten conducted over 50 interviews with biologists, conservation groups, state wildlife managers, hounds men and professional trackers in order to learn more about a cat no one every sees.

Buckrail asked the expert what she thought of the latest headlines and what might be going on.

Lions are reclusive, secretive animals. But in places like the Front Range of Colorado you have a lot of people, hiking and biking,” Patten said.

She speculated on a few abnormalities concerning what she had read about the incident including the estimated young age of the lion and the fact that it was partially consumed so quickly (two hours) after the attack.

“Mountain lions typically stay with their mother for 18 to 24 months. They do a lot of learning during this time. So, who knows, maybe this one did not have its mother around to teach it how and what to hunt,” Patten said.

Patten maintained lion attacks are still very rare. What is of more concern is how the escalating populations of grizzly bears and wolves have affected big cats.

Lions were once king of the hill as far as predators. Now, with two apex predators [grizzlies and wolves] on the scene and thriving, the mountain lion is more of a subordinate predator, Patten says.

Patten will share from her book and discuss a wide range of topics like recognizing lion sign on the landscape, exploring the lion Sasquatch of Mexico, and how the growing population of wolves and grizzly bears is affecting mountain lions.

Patten will also explore exciting new studies coming from Yellowstone National Park, as well as groundbreaking research recently concluded by Jackson-based Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project. These studies have provided greater insight into these elusive predators. Readings, along with video and photo footage, will assure an interesting and lively evening.

Ghostwalkers: Tracking a Mountain Lion’s Soul. Tuesday, February 12 from 6-8pm at the Teton County Library. Free and open to the public. Presented by Jackson Hole Bird and Nature Club. Co-sponsored with the Cougar Fund and Teton County Library.

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