For a few hours Wednesday, the LaBonte Park area could have easily been mistaken for Little Yellowstone.

Gawkers, lollygaggers, looky-loos and selfie-addicts of all types descended on the park after hearing reports of a mountain lion being spotted. This was the exact opposite response the authorities wanted from the public, which is why a Code Red emergency message was sent out to Laramie residents specifically asking us to stay inside while law enforcement officers and others searched for the predator.

And, young or not, every mountain lion is indeed a predator to be treated with respect and caution. While rare, mountain lions will attack — and sometimes kill — people. That’s not typical behavior for these big cats, but it is far more likely to happen when the animal is confused or intimidated by people and when it is in unfamiliar surroundings.

Swarming a park to look for a mountain lion also increases the odds authorities would have to use deadly force against it. It’s a simple equation, really: the more people there are in an area of a recent mountain lion sighting, the more likely conflict between the predator and people becomes.

It also makes the predator more scared and disoriented than they already are, which increases their evolutionary drive to find a good hiding spot and hunker down.

This, in turn makes it more difficult for authorities to quickly find the predator, tranquilize it and relocate it to a more proper environment.

All of this is to say that crowds do nothing but make a tough situation even worse for both the predator and those trying to safely remove it from the city.

Fascination with the wild animals around us is healthy and helps support the protection of natural habitat for wildlife. But human interaction, even from those trying to help, can be harmful to those animals. Every year people find young rabbits, birds, foxes and other wild animals and assume that they have been abandoned. But when those well-meaning people interfere by taking these animals home, they are creating problems for themselves and the animals. If animals need rescuing, that is best left to experts who know what they are doing.

It’s too easy for those of us who’ve lived in Wyoming for a long time to think of stupid interactions with nature as something only tourists do in the northwest corner of the state. But the truth is, we could all do a better job of recognizing and respecting the wild and dangerous elements of our state. Failing to do so invites not only peril for ourselves — it eats away at so much of what makes our state great in the first place.

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