If you’re an avid hiker, there’s a good chance one day you’ll find yourself hiking in cougar country. Your odds only increase if you reside in a region where they are more prevalent. Here in California, our chances of encountering a mountain lion are more so than any other part of the country. In fact, more than half of California is considered a mountain lion habitat. Luckily, the chances of being attacked by a mountain lion are slim. Since 1986, there have only been 14 verified attacks in California, 6 of which resulted in death.
While the chances of becoming a mountain lion’s dinner are low, hikers should still possess the knowledge necessary to stay safe if they were to encounter one. The following mountain lion safety tips will help you and your hiking companions stay safe while also enjoying your time outdoors.
Appear As Large As Possible
You want to look as intimidating as possible to a mountain lion. Stand tall, spread your arms and legs, open your jacket, pick up your children, and huddle close with a friend to appear as a threat. Do not crouch or sit. The bigger you look the better.
Make as much noise as possible. Yell, play loud music, bang two rocks together, be as loud as you possibly can to scare away the mountain lion. Do not frantic, but instead try to command control of the situation by speaking slow, clear, and firm to discourage predatory behavior.
Do Not Run
According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, mountain lions can sprint at speeds up to 50 mph. Do not try to outrun a mountain lion. It simply won’t happen unless you’re Superman. Running also will encourage the mountain lion’s instinct the chase, further promoting yourself as prey. Instead, slowly create distance, never turning away from the animal.
Bring a Friend
Hiking in mountain lion country is a big no. The more people you are with, the more dangerous your group will appear. Also, try to hike in near proximity of your hiking partner/s rather than straying off or rushing ahead. Additionally, bringing a friend along also provides an additional resource should a mountain lion try to attack you. Many mountain lions have been scared away by the other hiker throwing rocks at the animal.
In the rare instance, you do happen to see a mountain lion, and even rarer, they attack, you must fight back. Unlike bear attacks, you do not want to play dead or crawl up in a ball. Once a mountain lion decides to attack, they won’t stop even if they realize you aren’t a deer.
- Find anything nearby that can be used as a weapon
- Throw rocks at it
- Hit it in the face
- Bear Pepper Spray can also be useful against mountain lions. Spray at their eyes and nose.
Do Not Crouch
Whether you’re taking a short break to refuel or catch your breath, do not crouch or bend over in mountain lion territory. They can mistake you for a four-legged animal in this stance. This also makes you appear vulnerable, which is the best opportunity for a surprise attack. Mountain lions typically grab their prey by the neck, breaking it. Stand tall and mighty to avoid looking like prey, even during breaks.
Stay Away from Dead Animals
If you happen to come across a deceased animal on the trail, avoid it. Do not attempt to move it or get near it. Mountain lions often feed on their prey for the course of several days. They kill it, and typically leave it partially covered and come back to feed on it. Just like dogs, mountain lions are also protective of their food. You do not want to anger it and prompt it to attack you by getting too close to their meal.
Wear Bright Colors
Mountain lions are not able to distinguish color in the same capacity as humans. However, you will better increase your odds of not being confused by a deer by wearing brighter clothing. They are on the lookout for drab, dull, neutral color tones and may be thrown off by a vastly contrasting hue. The more you can differentiate yourself from an animal, the better.
Stay Alert During Dusk and Dawn Hours
Mountain lions are typically on the hunt when their prey is most active: dusk and dawn. Do not walk alone in mountain lion country between these times. If you are hiking at dusk or dawn in mountain lion country, be cognizant of your surroundings. Don’t hike with headphones in.
Avoid Cougar Kittens
If you happen to come across a cougar kitten, leave the area immediately. Just like bears, cougars will defend and protect their young. They will attack anything that appears as a threat. Slowly back away from the cougar kitten, and avoid getting anywhere near them.
As previously aforementioned, an encounter with a mountain lion is rare. Some people spend their entire careers affiliated with the outdoors and never see one. In the extremely rare case you do encounter a mountain lion, exercise these safety tips to avoid an unpleasant encounter between both you and the cougar. Remember, these predators will be just as scared of you as you are of them. In almost all cases, they will want to avoid you even if you are near.
Additionally, if you do happen to see a mountain lion and it has not acted aggressively, do not draw media attention. This will only get the mountain lion killed, even if it did nothing wrong. Help preserve nature and the environment by sticking to marked trails, staying alert, and being equipped with the knowledge necessary to stay safe even in unique, rare situations.