If you needed a reminder that mountain lions are never to be underestimated, here’s one. On Jan. 12, Travis Legler was helping biologists from the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) track lions for research purposes when an epic scene unfolded— and he captured it all on video.
Legler is a hound trainer. That morning, some of his young dogs pinned a female cat in a small canyon crack during a training session. He left the cat with his dogs and as they returned to the truck, he received a satellite phone ping from an AZGFD biologist he knew. The biologist asked him to bring him and a colleague back to the cat so they could dart and collar it for scientific research.
“We left the dogs in the truck and hiked back down to that spot to find where the track was leading. Then we were going to bring a couple older dogs out to trail and catch it again,” Legler tells Field & Stream. But they didn’t have to. The cat was in the same place Legler had left it that morning. The AZGFD biologist retrieved his tranquilization equipment and rappelling ropes from his truck and returned to dart the lion.
That’s when things took a turn for the worse. Legler’s video footage shows what happened next: One of the biologists fires a dart at the cat, which is so deep in the rocky crevasse you can’t see it at first. A second later, you can hear a growl, and the cat launches itself out of the slot canyon in the air, just feet from the biologist’s head. The cat then jumps right at Legler, who shouts at it a couple of times when it gets freakishly close.
“What you can’t see in the video is I’m standing on a two-foot ledge with a 150-foot cliff behind me,” says Legler. “So, if that cat hit me, both of us would probably fall over it and neither of us would’ve survived. That’s why I growled at it—to keep it from coming my way.”
Legler’s tactic seemed to work. The video concludes with the mountain lion loping off down a rocky draw, where it fell asleep. The biologists were able to use the rope to lower themselves down to the cat, which was a 2- or 3-year-old female. They collared it, and then reversed the tranquilization.
“[The mountain lion] wasn’t injured,” says Legler. “We watched her get up and walk off. Typically, when they’re tranquilized like that, they’ll walk off a short distance and find another place to lay up while they gather their wits and go about their business.”
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Mountain lions, which roam much of North America, are regularly treed and sedated with the help of volunteer houndsmen. This incident is an example of the risks some scientists and volunteer hunters will brave to study and preserve the iconic species.
“Mountain lion hunters and houndsmen are under attack on almost a daily basis from different groups,” explains Legler. “Without having biological data, it would be hard for game agencies to make educated decisions on the hunting or non-hunting of mountain lions. It’s important for me to pitch in because I love training tracking dogs. If I can help sustain the sport, I’m going to do everything I can to do so.”
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