What To Do If You Encounter a Mountain Lion

It’s rare, but it does happen. People in Colorado sometimes encounter mountain lions, also known as cougars, pumas, and panthers. Most escape unharmed, some end up injured, and unfortunately, a few people have been killed. Humans are not preferred prey for mountain lions. They usually hunt deer. But when conditions are right, mountain lions will sometimes attack people. It occurs most often when people are camping or hiking in areas populated by mountain lions, but as cities continue to encroach on the animals’ habitat, the possibility of mountain lion-human encounters increases. Whether it’s in the wild or in your neighborhood, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe if you ever find yourself facing down a hungry cougar.

Don’t run

That may sound easier said than done, but it can save your life. Most people’s instinct when confronted by a mountain lion will be to turn and run. That is the worst possible reaction. Cougars stalk their prey silently, but will give chase if the creature they consider to be their prey runs. A mountain lion can reach speeds of 35 to 40 miles an hour, easily outrunning the average human. If you discover you’re being stalked by a mountain lion, the first thing to do is back away slowly — don’t run.

Talk to it

Mountain lions’ usual prey is deer. A hunt and kill situation between the cat and a deer is usually going to be silent, with neither animal making much noise, the panther because it’s a silent stalker, and the deer because it’s usually killed so quickly, it doesn’t have time to verbalize. When facing a stalking mountain lion, talk to it in a firm, but calm voice. Don’t yell or scream. A panic reaction may provoke it to attack. It doesn’t really matter what you say, just speak in an authoritative voice as you’re backing away.

Change your appearance

If a mountain lion begins stalking you, it’s because it thinks you look like prey it can conquer. Try dissuading it by appearing larger than you are. If you’re wearing a jacket, hold it open, away from your body. If you’re not wearing a jacket, raise your arms over your head. If you can’t appear larger, you can try to look taller. You can also try lifting nearby objects such as large rocks or branches, but only if they’re easily within reach. Don’t bend down to pick anything up. That’s practically an invitation to the mountain lion to pounce on you.

Throw things

If the lion continues to behave aggressively, and doesn’t show signs of backing down or leaving, throw anything you may have handy at it. This may be rocks or sticks, but don’t hesitate to throw personal belongings such as a cell phone, binoculars, water bottle, or anything else you can easily lob at the cat. A cell phone or binoculars can always be replaced — you can’t. If you’re hiking and carrying a backpack, try to hold onto that for a couple of reasons. First, it will make you appear larger than you are, and second, if you’re actually wearing it on your back, it can offer you some protection if the cat does come after your despite your best efforts to deter it.

Fight back

If none of the aforementioned tactics works, and the mountain lion attacks you, fight back with everything you’ve got. Try to keep your footing. If you get knocked down, try your best to immediately get back up. Cougars can grow to be six feet long, and weigh an average of 130 pounds. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that you may be able to fight it off. In addition, because mountain lions silently stalk their prey, and usually jump down onto it from a higher position, they’re used to having the tactical advantage, and killing their prey quickly and fairly easily. They’re not expecting a fight. If you fight back, the cat may come to the conclusion that you’re not worth the trouble and give up.

Above all, keep your wits about you when venturing into the wilderness. Remember, you’re entering the mountain lion’s habitat when you hike into the woods. Be aware of your surroundings, and avoid hiking after dark. Cats are nocturnal, including mountain lions, and that’s when they do most of their hunting. In addition, if a cougar does wander into your neighborhood, don’t try to drive it away or catch it yourself. Call animal control, stay inside, and bring your pets inside with you. If you’re caught outside in that situation, remember these tips to keep yourself safe until professional help arrives.