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By Miriam Raftery

file photo: Calif. Dept. Fish & Game

July 13, 2015 (San Diego) – A mountain lion apparently protecting her cubs startled a pair of hikers Thursday night at Mission Trails Regional Park.

Mike Smith told ECM news partner 10 News that he was wearing a head lamp on the trail when he spotted a reflection and then heard a sound like “kittens, kind of like a meowing, but loud.”

He and his friend walked toward their car, when they saw eyes  staring at them. Next, a full-grown mountain lion walked out of the bushes and across the road less than 30 feet from the hikers, before heading up to high ground.

The hikers kept their cool, walking backwards toward a road, where they called an Uber driver to give them a lift back to their car. They also had mace, just in case, but didn’t need to use it.

The hikers say they wanted to warn others about the presence of the mountain lion and her cubs. Mountain lions are regular visitors in the park, though rarely seen by visitors.  While it’s a thrill to see on of these big cats, which are protected under California law, it’s also a situation that can be risky.

The Mountain Lion Foundation offers these tips in case you encounter a mountain lion:

*Look bigger: Make yourself appear larger by raising your arms slowly and opening your jacket. Leash in pets, pick up children and stand close to other adults.

*Make noise: Yell, shout, or bang your walking stick against a tree. Speak slowly, firmly and loudly to disrupt and discourage predatory behavior.

*Act like a predator yourself: Maintain eye contact. Never run past or from a mountain lion. Never turn your back,, bend over or crouch down since mountain lions typically attack from behind.

 *Slowly create distance: Assess the situation. Consider whether you may be between the lion and its kittens, or between the lion and its prey or cache. Back slowly to a spot that gives the mountain lion a path to get away, never turning away from the animal.

*Protect yourself: If attacked, fight back. Protect your neck and throat. People have utilized rocks, jackets, garden tools, tree branches, walking sticks, fanny packs and even bare hands to turn away cougars.

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