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How to tell if a mountain lion is nearby (and what to do if you see one)

Are there mountain lions wandering around your neighborhood or living near your favorite hiking trail? Can you tell their tracks apart from dog paw prints, or bobcat tracks?
These cats prefer to stay out of sight – but do you know what to do if you encounter one while hiking in cougar territory?
We’ve got you covered. Here’s a handy guide to identifying cougar tracks, and tips for what to do in the very rare event that you might encounter one.
Identifying cougar tracks

Mountain lion tracks compared to other animals:

Besides checking the tracks:
Mountain lion waste may have the presence of bones, teeth and animal hair. It is usually about an inch and a quarter in diameter. They have been known to leave waste in areas to mark their kills.
Close encounters

Hike in groups: If you’re in mountain lion country, travel with others whenever possible. Make noise (to avoid sneaking up on the cougars) and keep children close at all times.

Real Cougars of OC

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How to tell if a mountain lion is in your area (and what to do if you see one)
Wednesday: The Real Cougars of Orange County, Pt. 2: Will the lions survive?
Wednesday: Cougars can usually escape wildfires, but the blazes can reduce their habitat
Wednesday: Cat Facts: Mountain lions can jump 45 feet in a single leap, and more cougar trivia

Stay away: In the rare event that you see a cougar in the wild do not approach it, particularly if you see that it is eating or with cubs.
Stay calm and talk: In the even less likely event that a mountain lion approaches you, do not run away. Talk firmly to the animal, but give it a way to run off. Most mountain lions want to avoid confrontation with humans.
Other don’ts: Do not run. Do not turn your back.
Get big: Make yourself appear as big as possible; raise your arms. And pick up small children to prevent them from running.  Throw rocks and sticks if necessary. Cougars have been driven away by prey that seems less easy to kill.
Sources: Winston Vickers, UC Davis Wildlife Health Center; National Geographic, California Fish and Wildlife, Moutain Lion Foundation; The Nature Conservancy
Photos: Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority, Wikimedia Commons, file photos

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