Do we need to worry about mountain lion attacks?
The news seems to tell us we should be. A recent encounter in Washington state resulted in a fatality. A runner was attacked in Colorado; that story ended favorably for him (but not for the lion) when he managed to kill it with his bare hands.
We shouldn’t really worry about mountain lions, experts say. “[Mountain] lion attacks on people are rare, with fewer than a dozen fatalities in North America in more than 100 years,” says Travis Duncan, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In comparison, over 37,000 people were killed on U.S. roadways in 2017.
Mountain lions sound a bit scary — like something that we need Chuck Norris around to keep us safe from — but most of the time they’re just trying to get away from us. So how do you avoid ever running into one? We talked to the experts to find out how to never see a mountain lion.
How to Prevent a Mountain Lion Encounter
Prevention is key with mountain lions. If you are doing it right while camping, hiking, or biking, then you probably will never see one. But how do we do it right?
“I would say that encountering pumas in the wild should be considered a good thing, but for those who want to avoid pumas, they should avoid activity in puma habitats, especially things like running which may trigger predation instinct, and particularly in morning and evening when pumas are more active,” says Dr. John Goodrich, Chief Scientist and Tiger Program Senior Director for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization
Being noisy might be the exact opposite of what some of us want to do when enjoying the pristine wilderness but it may prevent you from rounding the corner and scaring a mountain lion. Ever feel like punching someone in the face when they scare the daylights out of you? Right.
Richard Beausoleil, Bear and Cougar Specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, advises, “If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you need to let wildlife know you are coming so they can avoid you. Trails with sharp turn are the most crucial but I recommend all outdoor enthusiasts carry a $2 whistle and/or use a horn. If you blow the whistle every few minutes on a bike (and at every corner) you will avoid a surprise encounter with wildlife.”
If you can, travel with multiple people. “Bike, hike, and ski in groups,” Duncan elaborates. “Run with a buddy. Do not run alone in lion habitat.”
How to Survive a Mountain Lion Attack
Again, chances are you’ll never see a mountain lion. But what should you do if it happens (besides buying a lottery ticket right after)?
Mountain lions won’t attack prey that’s too big. Be that giant monster they decide against approaching.
“Talk calmly yet firmly to it and make enough eye contact so that it knows you have seen it. Slowly back away. Do not run.”
“You need to stop immediately, use the whistle, and clap your hands loudly (which sounds like a gunshot). Don’t clap like an applause — simply make a sharp, loud noise and repeat. Then, raise your hands and be as loud as possible,” says Beausoleil.
Duncan adds, “Stay calm. Talk calmly yet firmly to it and make enough eye contact so that it knows you have seen it. Slowly back away. Do not run. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.”
“If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches, or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back,” urges Duncan.
Remember these tips and you’ll never have to call Chuck Norris for help with a mountain lion.