Mountain lions, also called cougars, are secretive and solitary predators. They are rarely seen during the day, and from dusk until dawn they lie in wait in dense under growth ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey. They attack their prey from the rear, either pouncing as they pass or by sneaking up on them. In North America, they prey mainly on deer but also dine on elk, goats, moose, sheep, raccoons and wild hogs.
Mountain lions are usually found in areas with abundant prey and dense cover.
Attacks by these big cats are very rare and the chance being killed or injured by one is much less than other natural risks that occur in mountain lion country. For example, there is a much higher risk of being killed in car crash with an elk or deer than of being attacked by a mountain lion. But it must be emphasised, that despite the low risk of an attack, fatalities have happened.
Fatal Mountain Lion Attack in Orange County, California
In January 2004, a mountain lion killed a biker living in a ranch near the foothills of the Santa Ana mountains. Seemingly, he was crouching over his bike fixing one of the wheels when the mountain lion attacked. Predatory big cats interpret crouching behaviour as a sign that you’re prey. The biker was also alone, and mountain lions usually stay well clear of groups of people, and any attacks are usually on lone individuals.
After the attack, the cat dragged the body away and hid it, by covering it in grass and leaves. The cat then remained close to the body, under cover. Another biker, who cycled close to the hidden body was attacked by the cat protecting its kill, and was saved by a group of friends who pried her away. The mountain lion was later caught and killed.
The following advice will increase your safety when spending time in mountain lion country:
Moving through Mountain Lion country
When spending time in mountain lion country, the best way to prevent an encounter with a lion is to take these simple precautions:
- Take a companion or a group of companions with you, avoid going into mountain lion country alone. The bigger the group, the better. Increased numbers reduce the likelihood of an attack.
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings, dont be distracted. Don’t use your phone or listen to music, keep your focus.
- Bring an air horn or whistle that can scare any aggressive animals you come across.
- Practice using bear spray and bring it with you.
- Keep small children close and don’t allow children to play outdoors unattended. They might been seen as prey.
- Keep your dog under control on a short leash.
- If you come across a dead animal, especially one covered in leaves or grass, leave it. It might have been hidden there by a mountain lion intending to eat it later.
What to do if you Encounter a Mountain Lion
- Keep calm. Don’t run! Even if you’re an Olympic champion, a mountain lion chases prey at 40 mph will easily catch you. Running will also provoke the cat’s chasing instinct, as it would with other predators such as black bears, grizzly bears and wolves.
- Stand tall and directly face the mountain lion. Never turn your back on one, they have evolved to attack animals from the rear. Keep eye contact and stare the animal down.
- Don’t crouch. Mountain lions see crouching animals as prey.
- Children or pets are more likely to be seen as prey. Pick up small children or pets using the power of your arms, without bending down or crouching and while maintaining eye contact with the cat.
- Slowly back away while continuing to face the cat.
If the Mountain Lion Moves Toward You
- Make noise by shouting, blowing a whistle or sounding an air horn.
- Make yourself look as big as possible. Wave your arms slowly or open your jacket wide.
- Throw rocks, sticks or any heavy objects you have in your backpack.
- If you have bear spray, undo the safety catch.
If the Mountain Lion Attacks
- Fight back. Try to stay upright and protect yourself using sticks, rocks, walking poles, or whatever you have available. Mountain lions have been successfully driven away by prey that fights back.
- Use bear spray, if you have it. Direct it at the eyes and nose of the animal.