Can music soothe a savage beast? If you were to ask 40-year-old Kyra Kopenstonsky, she will tell you that it might have saved her from a cougar attack. Kopenstonsky was hiking a trail near Down Valley Park in Placerville, Colorado on Monday when she encountered a mountain lion. According to a report by the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office, the lion stalked the hiker for about 20 minutes, during which it would often jump forward and crouch whenever Kopenstonsky attempted to move backwards. She told deputies that when she first saw the animal, she picked up a large branch and attempted to look big. That did not seem to faze the cat, so Kopenstonsky said she did the next thing that came to her mind.
“I don’t know why, I just started singing opera really loud,” Koestonsky later told KUSA. “It kind of put its ears down and just kept looking at me, and it sort of backed away. Then, it came around the bushes an came towards me again and crouched about 10 feet away.”
Although the singing did not repel the animal, it may have deterred the mountain lion from directly attacking the hiker. Koestonsky said that the large cat alternated from grooming itself, pacing, and following her. At one point, the mountain lion was a mere eight feet away from the hiker.
“I would back up and it would creep forward, so I’d stop. Eventually it sort of crouched down, like part way,” Kopestonsky said. “So, I start backing up down the mountain, which was really steep.”
The hiker took advantage of lulls in the encounter to call her roommate, who in turn informed the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff William Masters and six deputies responded to the emergency, but Kopestonsky emerged at the trailhead by herself. Deputies noted that the woman as shaken, but uninjured.
“We’re glad this turned out to be nothing more than a frightening experience for the hiker. She was obviously educated as to what to do in this unexpected situation,” Sheriff Masters said.
Masters added that the county is not known for mountain lion sightings, having only a few dozen reported in his 34 years in office and only one prior stalking. The Colorado Department of Wildlife has been notified of the encounter and are considering what, if any, actions the department will take. Kopestonsky described the mountain lion as healthy, uninjured, and not acting strangely outside of following her and wildlife officials have not stated whether the incident should be considered a predatory act.
In a press release, the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office shared the following tips for those who decide to venture into cougar territory:
- Travel in groups, keep children close by, and make plenty of noise to lower your chances of surprising a lion.
- If you spot a mountain lion, do not approach it, especially one that is feeding or with kittens.
- Allow the lion a way to escape. Most mountain lions will try to avoid confrontation.
- Face the lion, try to stay calm, do NOT run, as that may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack.
- Stand upright, grab a large stick if possible, and raise your arms in an effort to appear larger, and back away slowly.
- Sing or speak in a firm voice to help demonstrate that you are human and not prey.
- If you have small children with you, pick them up.
- If the lion becomes aggressive, wave your arms, shout and throw objects at it. Do not turn your back to the lion or bend down.
- Mountain lion attacks are extremely rare. In fact, there is a greater risk of being struck by lightning than being attacked by a mountain lion. If attacked, fight back.