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Lions and Bears - Oh My!

What to do if you encounter a mountain lion or a black bear.

By Dan Oko

The call came on April 29, 2006: A mountain lion had been killed on the I-10 service road near Bass Pro Shops just outside San Antonio. Biologists said the 3-year-old cat did not show signs of having been in captivity. Does this mean that people living nearby should be concerned for their safety? The surprising and simple answer - despite anecdotal evidence that the number of lions is on the rise - remains no.

"I would say that folks who see a mountain lion would be very lucky to see one," TPWD mammologist John Young explains. Young tracks lion sightings among other wildlife issues in Texas, and while TPWD put out a new pamphlet last year regarding lion behavior and personal protection - and one addressing black bear sightings - there is no reason for hunters or other outdoorsy Texans to declare anything like a Yellow Alert. Young says that nobody knows how many bears or mountain lions are in Texas, but from many reports the number of these predatory animals may be growing.

Young notes that the only known records of a mountain lion attacking a person in Texas have been in Big Bend National Park. The most recent report involved a sick cat that did no lasting damage to its victim. The new Mountain Lions in Texas pamphlet offers the following advice:

  • Do not run away.
  • Pick up any small children in the area.
  • Make some noise.
  • Try to make yourself look bigger.
  • Raise your arms or pick up a stick, which can also be used as a defensive weapon just in case.
  • If a lion does attack, fight back!

With bears on the rise, especially in East Texas, there are additional concerns for hunters who use deer feeders. Yet state biologists and wildlife advocates are mostly concerned with the threat that humans pose to bears. Paul Davidson, director of the Baton Rouge-based Black Bear Conservation Committee, says that recruitment of new bears into East Texas stems from successful protection programs in Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. But Davidson believes that people present a bigger problem for bears than the other way around. "You have to keep in mind that bears are like great big raccoons," he says.

According to Nathan Garner, TPWD regional wildlife director for East Texas, the majority of black bears can be found in the Trans-Pecos of West Texas. "Hunters are the ones most likely to run into bears, because we know that they are attracted to deer feeders," says Garner, who is quick to note that black bears remain protected in Texas under federal law, making it illegal to hunt, harm or kill a bear. If you happen upon one, he says, "In close quarters the best thing to do is stay calm. Remember, don't panic, don't shoot and don't ever approach a wild bear."

Then what should you do? According to the new Bear Safety in Mind hunter's pamphlet:

  • Never approach a bear.
  • If a bear visits your deer stand, throw rocks at it, blast it with an air horn or try a slingshot.
  • Do not run, back away slowly, and speak in a calm, low voice.
  • If a bear approaches you, yell and raise your arms to appear larger.
  • If attacked, fight back. Don't play dead!

"Our biggest concern is that at first light, we're going to see people shooting bears," Garner adds, suggesting that hunters learn the difference between the profile of a bear and a feral hog, carefully studying the differences in their silhouettes, which may look similar in the low light of dawn. "It's something we have really not had to worry about since World War II, but we have not had any reports of accidents or injuries to people and that's because really bears are still very rare. It might even be something that never happens. Believe me, bears are more scared of people than people are of bears," he says.

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