Is it as simple as just staying out of mountain lion country? Of course not. If you did, there would be few places left to explore. Be aware of the wildlife around you, respect them, be prepared, and enjoy. Follow these safety tips:
- Travel with a friend or group.
- Keep small children nearby.
- Do not let pets run unleashed.
- Try to minimize your recreation during dawn and dusk- the times mountain lions are most active.
- Carry a deterrent device within quick reach - like in your fanny pack. (Remember that firearms may be illegal in many recreation areas.) Most attack victims have little or no warning. Pepper spray is good.
- Respect park warning signs or notices of mountain lion activity.
- Know how to behave if you encounter a mountain lion.
What To Do If You Encounter A Mountain Lion
In the vast majority of mountain lion encounters, these animals exhibit avoidance, indifference, or curiosity that never results in human injury. But it is natural to be alarmed if you have an encounter of any kind. Try to keep your cool and consider the following:
Remember, just because you see a mountain lion does not mean the animal is a threat to your safety. These agencies expect people to see mountain lions. You should not expect authorities to kill a curious mountain lion.
- Recognize threatening mountain lion behavior. There are a few cues that may help you gauge the risk of attack. If a mountain lion is more than 50 yards away, changes positions, directs attention toward people, and exhibits following behavior, it may be only curious. This circumstance represents only a slight risk for adults, but a more serious risk to unaccompanied children. At this point, you should move away, while keeping the animal in your peripheral vision. Also, take out a deterrent device or look for rocks, sticks, or something to use as a weapon- just in case.
For distances of less than 50 yards, where the animal is staring intensely and hiding, it may be assessing the chances of a successful attack. If intense staring and hiding continue, accompanied by crouching and creeping, the risk of attack may be substantial.
- Do not approach a mountain lion; give the animal the opportunity to move on. Slowly back away, but maintain eye contact if close. Mountain lions are not known to attack humans to defend young or a kill, but they have been reported to "charge" in rare instances and may want to stay in the area. Best choose another route or time to adventure through the area.
- Do not run from a mountain lion. Running may stimulate a predatory response.
- If you encounter a mountain lion, be vocal and talk or yell loudly and regularly. Try not to panic: shout to others in the area to make them aware of the situation.
- Maintain eye contact. Eye contact presents a challenge to the mountain lion, showing that you are aware of its presence. Eye contact also helps you know where it is. However, if the behavior of the mountain lion is not threatening (if it is, for example, grooming or periodically looking away), maintain visual contact through your peripheral vision and move away.
Appear larger than you are. Raise your arms above your head and make steady waving motions. Raise your jacket or another object above your head.
Do not bend over as this will make you appear smaller and more "prey-like."
- If you are with small children, pick them up. First bring children close to you, maintain eye contact with the mountain lion, and pull the children up without bending over. Band together, if you are with other children or adults.
- Be prepared to defend yourself and fight back, if attacked. Try to remain standing. Do not feign death. Pick up a branch or rock, pull out a knife, pepper spray, or other deterrent device. Remember, everything is a potential weapon, and individuals have fended off mountain lions with blows from rocks, tree limbs, and even cameras.
- Defend your friends or children, but not your pet. In past attacks on children, adults have successfully stopped attacks. However, such cases are very dangerous and risky, and the forest service does not recommend physically defending a pet.
- Respect any warning signs posted by agencies. It may not be a good time for outdoor adventuring.
- Teach others in your group how to behave. One person or child who starts running could precipitate an attack.
- If you have an encounter with a mountain lion, record your location and the details of the encounter, and notify the nearest park official, land owner, or other appropriate agency. The land management agency (federal, state, or county) may want to visit the site and, if appropriate, post education/warning signs. Fish and wildlife agencies should also be notified because they record and track such encounters. Remember, agencies need accurate information regarding your encounter. However, given the frequency of mountain lion sightings, many, including yours, may not be followed up on unless the animal exhibited unusually bold behavior.
If physical injury occurs, it is important to leave the area and not disturb the site of attack. Mountain lions that have attacked people must be killed, and an undisturbed site is critical for effectively locating the dangerous mountain lion.
Are There Any Effective Deterrents?
Pepper spray (capsaicin-based) may be useful for incidents where a mountain lion is observed nearby and is approaching. It is uncertain, however, how effective the spray may be once an attack has occurred. It is difficult to advocate a particular device, as circumstances and expertise vary dramatically from person to person. Potential weapons and deterrent devices include: knives, walking sticks, pepper spray, and firearms. If you choose to carry a deterrent device, be sure you not only know how to use it but are also confident and comfortable with it before you venture into mountain lion country. In the event of an attack, everything is a potential weapon: people have fought off lions with nothing more than rocks and sticks. (Remember that firearms may be illegal in many recreation areas.)
Safety Tips for Trail Runners, Trail Riders, and Mountain BikersTrail Runners
If you are going to run on trails through mountain lion habitat, run with others! An unleashed pet is not an adequate substitute for a running partner. Tragically, mountain lions have attacked trail runners. A woman runner was killed in California in 1994, and a man was killed in Colorado in 1990. In both cases the runners were alone and unable to successfully defend themselves after the initial attack.
Mountain lions have approached individuals on horseback in several states and provinces. In 1996, a family, including a mother and three children, was trail riding on horseback in British Columbia, when a mountain lion suddenly jumped from a bush at the 6-year-old son. The boy was thrown from his horse and was attacked by the mountain lion. The mother fought off the animal courageously, but she finally was killed by the mountain lion. Surprisingly, this male mountain lion weighed only 65 pounds.
For safety, ride in a group and try to avoid the low-light hours of dawn and dusk. Be alert to any behavioral "cues" that your horse may exhibit. Your horse is likely to smell or see a mountain lion before you do. If a mountain lion appears on the trail, try to keep your horse calm, back away, and leave the area. Do not dismount unless absolutely necessary. In the event that you are thrown from your horse or are forced to dismount, carry some type of deterrent device with you in a fanny pack.
Every year numerous cyclists report sightings of mountain lions, and a few of these trailway encounters have necessitated the cyclist's retreat. In 1995, a Southern California cyclist saw a mountain lion quickly approaching. He dismounted and used his bike to shield himself from the cougar. His reactions were appropriate, but they failed. As a last resort, he ran away, slipping down a steep slope. The mountain lion followed and bit him on the head. He reacted by striking the mountain lion in the head with a rock, after which the animal retreated. Like equestrians and trail runners, mountain bikers should always carry some type of deterrent device in a fanny pack.
© Steve Torres