Though mountain lions were reported in three sightings in Grand Canyon Village last week, park mammal biologist Eric York said the normally elusive big cats are no more active than usual.
"What usually happens, and it happens everywhere, is that once people get mountain lions on their mind, the sightings increase whether they're real or not," he said.
Two lions were reported together at Mather Point around midnight on April 2 and another was reported in the village area the next day.
Based on radio collar monitoring of five lions, including a new one tagged last month, the cats do frequent the village though in most cases they avoid people. In fact biologists confirmed the presence of a lion near second tunnel on Bright Angel Trail not by sighting her but by a killed deer she left behind.
"The mountain lion was there. She only fed on it at night and then moved about a mile away during the day when there were people around," York said. "She did the right thing. She did what we wanted her to do."
He said the real risk to humans was when the condors found the carcass and dragged it on the trail to feed, kicking rocks loose to potentially fall on hikers below.
The sighting of two lions was unusual, because mountain lions tend to be solitary and occupy territory that has minimal overlap with that of their neighbors. One male, who's been tracked for three years, has a 500-mile range that stretches to Desert View, Valle, the Havasupai reservation and Pasture Wash. Most males have a smaller range somewhere over 200 square miles while females claim about 100. Females will share their territory with their cubs for about two years before they disperse.
"Resident cats hold territory on the South Rim. The males are all packed in and the female we just tagged has been in the middle of the park and around town," York said.
He warned that if you see a mountain lion, don't run or otherwise give it a reason to believe you are prey.
"When a mountain lion sees you, he hasn't decided what to do about you yet," he said. "Cats are curious and are constantly weighing their options trying to decide whether that's food or that's dangerous, or both."
He advises an aggressive response, making yourself look as big as possible, shout and throw objects if they are available. Don't stoop and pick them up, York warns, or you will appear smaller and less imposing to the lion. Parents should also pick up children so they don't appear as a smaller, inviting target for lions.
"Make sure they know you're a person," he said. "Do everything you can do to prove that you're more dangerous than they are. Use your jacket or a backpack to make yourself look bigger. Be the aggressor."
Problem lions who show too much curiosity about humans are hazed first and if that doesn't deter them, are captured and relocated an effective bit of hazing in itself, said York.
Report mountain lion sightings to park Dispatch at 638-7805. York would also welcome mountain lion photos. Send them to email@example.com.