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Cougars Narrowly Escape Coyotes' Wrath

Cougar versus coyote in Wyoming's National Elk Refuge
Two juvenile cougars spent an hour trapped on a fence by five coyotes in the National Elk Refuge. (Image credit: Lori Iverson/USFWS Mountain Prairie)

Two young mountain lions spent a miserable hour trapped on a fence by five coyotes last Thursday (March 28) in Wyoming's National Elk Refuge.

Refuge staffer Lori Iverson snapped photos of the spectacular evening standoff. The juvenile cats sought safety on a buck and rail fence, perched over a creek, while the coyotes lurked in the background, Iverson wrote in notes accompanying her photos.

As the coyotes moved in closer, one mountain lion (also known as a cougar) slowly shifted position along the fence, occasionally dropping to the ground where it was met by lunges and yips by the coyotes, Iverson wrote. The mountain lion responded with hisses and yowls.

Eventually, the mountain lion ran across the creek on the fence and took off with the five coyotes in pursuit. The second mountain lion was still hunkered down in the grass under the fence when Iverson called it a night, she wrote. [See the coyote-mountain lion standoff.]

Both cubs were spotted alive and well late Sunday by U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees.

The extent of Wyoming's cougar population is unknown, because the state's Game and Fish Department does not publicly release population estimates. According to several studies, the Black Hills population (east of Jackson) is the state's largest and serves as a source for migrating animals to the Midwest and East.

Cougars are starting to rise in number after a century of widespread hunting and loss of prey. Researchers confirmed 178 cougar sightings in the Midwest over the past few decades, with the number of confirmations steadily increasing between 1990 and 2008, according to a study published in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management. 

In the West, Nevada is home to about 3,000 cougars, while California has 4,000 to 6,000 cats prowling its mountains and shores.

Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @OAPlanet, Facebook or Google +. Original article on LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

Becky Oskin
Contributing Writer
Becky Oskin covers Earth science, climate change and space, as well as general science topics. Becky was a science reporter at Live Science and The Pasadena Star-News; she has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics. She earned a master's degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor's degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.