Rich DeSimone, an FWP mountain lion researcher, had an experience where bear pepper spray most likely protected two FWP lion researchers and an experienced lion hound from a 120 pound radio-collared female lion. Here is his story.
On June 10, 2001, Brian Shinn, an FWP research assistant, and I were capturing and radio-equipping lion kittens for a long-term mountain lion study in the Garnet Mountains, east of Missoula when we used bear pepper spray to deter a female mountain lion that came within five feet of us.
The two-year old, adult female lion, F43, was one of the some 121 lions captured and radio-equipped since 1997 to study how sport hunting affects lion population dynamics and how to monitor lions to determine whether populations are increasing or decreasing.
Two days before this incident, we had located "F43" using radio-telemetry in an area where she had been for several weeks, common behavior when females have kittens. We found at least two month-old kittens with her.
We radio collared one of the kittens and identified her as "F53". Several days later, we returned to the area using telemetry to find kitten F53 in order to collar additional kittens in the litter.
As I used our telemetry receiver and antenna to move in on the radio signal, Shinn held an experienced lion hound on a short leash in one hand and his bear pepper spray in the other hand.
The adult female lion appeared from under a pine tree and came directly toward us. She attempted to slap or swipe at the lion hound on the leash. At a distance of only a few feet, Brian shot a burst of the bear pepper spray toward the lion's face.
She immediately turned away, made three leaps and at about 10 to 15 feet blinked repeatedly and then started to walk toward us again.
Shinn sprayed a second curtain of pepper spray and the lion turned away and this time laid down about 20 yards away. We noticed that she had evidence of foam and saliva near her mouth. The two of us left the area to prevent any further disturbance to her and her kittens.
Monitoring radioed lions in the Garnets ended early 2007. Both F43 and F53 were alive and doing fine. Since 2001, both females have produced several litters of kittens.
FWP no longer directly approaches radioed females with tiny kittens. Today's protocol is to locate the female's den site and wait for her to leave. When she does we locate and collar the kittens.
Several thousand mountain lions have been captured and marked by biologists studying lions. Aggressive behavior by lions toward humans is extremely rare, although female lions become anxious when their young are handled.
Mountain lion attacks are rare. However, men, women, and children have been injured by mountain lions. Always be alert and regard any close encounter with a mountain lion as potentially dangerous. Stay away from all young animals and carcasses (kills); carnivores/predators will defend food sources and young.
Our experience with F43 allowed us to confirm that regulation, EPA-approved bear pepper spray is an effective deterrent to an approaching mountain lion.