Wildlife Photographer Comes Face to Face with a Mountain Lion

A wildlife photographer hiking in southern California had the hair-raising experience of coming face to face with a mountain lion, and he caught the encounter on camera (warning: there’s some strong language).

Last Friday, photographer Mark Girardeau went with a friend to Trabuco Canyon in Orange County to check some trail cameras he had set up.

“We were hiking out after already checking the files and noticed a mountain lion walking by the camera not long before we were there,” Girardeau writes.

While on the trail out of the area, they suddenly saw something running fast at them. It was a mountain lion.

“By the time we stopped and looked at it, it was already 5-10 feet from us,” the photographer says. “It turned into a stare down but we were able to walk a little farther to place the bush in between us and the cat.”

A mountain lion peering through bushes.
The mountain lion Girardeau encountered and caught on camera.

Girardeau runs Orange County Outdoors, which educates people on wildlife in Orange County and encourages them to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Thinking that he had a teaching moment on his hands, Girardeau pulled out his camera and started recording his reaction to the big cat.

“I figured it’d be a great tool to have for how to deal with these encounters since I’m well aware of what to do in these situations,” he says. “Make yourself known and be dominant while not running or turning your back.

“This also reinforces their fear of humans which equates to more lives saved in the future (both humans and mountain lions).”

Girardeau may have known what to do in that situation, but he still had to muster the courage to stand his ground.

“If I said I wasn’t scared, I’d be lying, but I had to kind of hype it up and make myself sound tougher,” he tells CBS2. “This mountain lion didn’t blink. It was so weird and we were so close. You could just see its eyes staring at us.”

“Chill, just chill,” Girardeau is heard instructing his friend, Rachel Devlugt, in his video. “Get back! Back away slowly. Hold on. Don’t go fast! Don’t turn your back either.”

After several tense moments and a lot of shouting, the mountain lion finally turned and jogged off in a different direction.

“I’d like to make sure it’s known that mountain lions don’t seek out humans to feed on,” Girardeau tells PetaPixel. “I really think this was a case of mistaken identity.

“The lion likely thought we were deer since there was deer in the area and it couldn’t see us from down below, once it ran up to us and got less than 10 feet away, it realized that we were humans and not deer, that’s when she stopped and we stopped and scared her off.”

Mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare, much less deadly ones — there have been less than 30 documented fatal attacks in North America over the past century, while cows kill about 20 people per year and dogs kill 30 to 50 people per year in the United States alone.

It turns out the mountain lion the duo ran into is well known in the canyon — her name is Uno, and she is easily recognizable due to her damaged eye. Girardeau had previously captured photos of the same cat.

A female mountain lion.
Uno, a female mountain lion found around Trabuco Canyon. Photo by Mark Girardeau.
A female mountain lion.
Uno. Photo by Mark Girardeau.

You can find more of Girardeau’s work, including trail camera photos and various videos, on his website and YouTube channel.