Mountain Lions, Their Rare Attacks on Humans, and How to Avoid Them

Updated on June 25, 2018
Teeuwynn Woodruff profile image

Teeuwynn lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three children, one dog, one cat, and two rats. She is a long-time pet lover.

Mountain Lions, Their Rare Attacks on Humans, and How to Try to Prevent Them

Mountain lions are known by many names including cougars, pumas, panthers, and catamounts. Their Latin name is Puma concolor. These cats are loners who map out a territory for themselves to keep other mountain lions out.

Mountain lions are large, powerful cats. They can be 5-8 feet long and weigh 75-180 pounds. The cats have long pairs of upper and lower fangs and strong, slashing claws. Cougars can leap as much as 15 high and 40 feet long so they can spring upon prey in an instant. A cougar can climb a 12 foot fence. Cougars stalk their prey carefully, and usually like to get above them before they strike.

A mountain lion’s normal diet consists of mammals ranging from mice to raccoons to deer. Mountain lions will eat all small to medium size mammals they can get their paws on.

Where Do Mountain Lions Live?

Mountain lions, or cougars, live in a surprisingly broad range of areas in the United States and abroad. The largest group of cougars live in the Western United States. There are an estimated 30,0000 mountain lions living in this part of the country, but mountain lions are found from Canada to Argentina.

There is one subspecies of the cougar, called the Florida Cougar which has a critically endangered population of less than 100 individuals.

Threats to Cougars

The main threat to cougars is human beings. They are hunted to protect livestock and their land is being poached.

Cougar or Mountain lion possibly readying for an attack.
Cougar or Mountain lion possibly readying for an attack.

Mountain Lion Attacks on Humans

Mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare, but they do happen. In May of 2018, two bikers were attacked in Snoqualmie, Washington. The mountain lion leaped from above and began attacking one of the men, Isaac Sederbaum, biting his head. The other man, S.J. Brooks, saw what was happening and fled. Horrifically for him, when he turned to run he set off the mountain lion’s prey instinct and the giant cat chased him instead, killing him. Sederbaum survived.

There were a lot of strange aspects to the attack. The two men did a lot of things right to scare off the cougar. They made loud noises and made themselves seem large. When it eventually attacked, they even hit it with one of their bikes. Another strange aspect to the attack is that it occurred during the daylight. Mountain lions tend to attack at night.

Cougar on the attack.
Cougar on the attack.

How Long Had it Been Since the Last Cougar Attack in Washington State?

The attack on the two men in Snoqualmie, Washington was the first attack on humans by a mountain lion in the state in 94 years. The mountain lion that attacked them was underweight and authorities believe it was sick.

Keeping Yourself Safe From Cougars

There are several different ways you can help keep yourself safe in the very rare case that you are in danger of being stalked by a cougar.

  • Keep a lookout for fresh cougar tracks. Cougar tracks have an “M” shaped lobe with three pads jutting out from it in back. You cannot see their claws, but they have four frontal lobes. When they walk they do so in an overlapping pattern crossing front and hind feet.
  • Be Alert! Always be aware of your surroundings when you are out in the wilderness, even if you are fairly close to civilization. Avoid being out between dusk and dawn because that is when cougars are most active and looking for prey.
  • Watch Children and Animals. Because of their smaller size, children and pets can be more tempting targets for cougar attacks than full grown adults.
  • Do Not Corner or Attempt to Entrap a Wild Cougar. Or any wild animal for that matter. This will only trigger the fight or flight instinct, and if the animal can’t flee, it will fight.
  • If you encounter a cougar DO NOT RUN! This will cause the animal’s prey instinct to kick in and it will, in all likelihood, instantly go in for the kill.
  • Maintain Eye Contact. Make Yourself as Big As You Can. You want to look like a threat that’s not worth the effort in the cougar’s eyes.
  • Throw Things at the Cougar. Yell in a Deep Voice. Slowly wave your arms. These actions will also make you seem more threatening.
  • If All Else Fails and a Cougar Attacks, FIGHT BACK. Most people who fight back, do live. Again, adult humans are big enough and strong enough to often just not be worth the cougar’s efforts.

Mountain lion tracks.
Mountain lion tracks. | Source

Protecting Domestic Animals

Domestic animals are sometimes victims of mountain lion attacks. The best thing you can do to keep your animals safe is to keep them inside a structure from dusk to dawn since this is when most mountain lions hunt.

Have More Questions About Mountain Lions?

Contact the Mountain Lion Foundation @info@mountainlion.org or call 916-442-2666.

National Geographic Video on Mountain Lions

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Teeuwynn Woodruff

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