Surviving a Mountain Lion Attack
Mountain lions are fast and powerful predators. They also have the largest habitat range of any animal in our hemisphere. These territorial felines can be found in swamps, forests, deserts, and mountains. Also commonly known as cougars, pumas, and panthers, mountain lions are mostly found in the western half on the United States, although they have been found east of the Mississippi River. Mountain lions are ambush predators, solitary creatures, and tend to avoid humans. Like most animals, mothers are extremely protective of their young.
Although I have never come across a live mountain lion, I have stumbled upon a young, deceased mountain lion that had fallen from a cliff. Being that I was hiking in a very solitary place (the Zion Narrows), I was very concerned I would run into a live one. If I had, I wouldn’t have known what to do. (not smart, for a hiker!)
Death by mountain lion attacks are rare: there have only been around 20 reported cases of people in North America killed since 1890, with most cases being reported in California and British Columbia. Children are especially vulnerable to attack; even more so when they are unaccompanied by an adult.
The most important thing to know when defending yourself from a mountain lion is to prove to the lion that you are not prey: don’t look small, weak, or quiet. Show the animal that you are dominant and strong. Remember that mountain lions are predators; they often attack when they feel trapped, when a person runs away, or when a person is still or plays dead.
So when hiking or camping in areas with mountain lions, please follow these tips to ensure your safety:
Mountain Lion Precautions:
- Always stay in groups -You are much more likely to encounter a mountain lion when you are alone. Always hike in groups.
- Avoid hiking at dawn and dusk – These are the times when mountain lions are most active.
- Keep small children close – Children should always stay close and not run ahead or fall behind. Small children appear as prey to mountain lions so be sure they stay with the group.
If You See a Mountain Lion:
- Try to LOOK BIG – Stand upright, open your coat, raise your arms to look as big as possible. Show them you are not prey by looking large. Show the animal you are larger than it, and it should back away.
- Stay calm
- If it’s not threatening you, slowly BACK UP and give the lion space. Hopefully it will walk away.
- DON’T RUN AWAY – This may invite the lion to chase after you. Pick up young children and try to remain calm.
If a Mountain Lion Attacks:
- LOOK BIG – stand upright, open your coat, raise your arms to look large and threatening
- SHOUT, scream, and yell in commanding voice
- THROW whatever is available at the mountain lion (rocks, sticks, camping gear, etc), but try not to turn away or crouch down. You don’t want to look small or as if you are fleeing.
- If attacked, FIGHT BACK in whatever way possible. Defend yourself however you can.
- DO NOT PLAY DEAD – Mountain lions tend to attack when they are hungry. Therefore, you should not look or act like prey. Lions like to attack the head and neck area so stand tall, but defend these vitals regions as needed.
If a mountain lion attacks, fight back and don’t play dead!
If you see a mountain lion or are a victim of an attack, it’s important to be sure to report the information to the park service, forest rangers, or the police. Informing authorities helps protect others in the area from experiencing the same peril.
Hike smart and hike safe.