People are interested in and frightened of a mountain lion attack. The mountain lion is a puma or a cougar. This page covers attacks on people and also provides information on the hunting characteristics of this animal.
Photo above by eyeinthewild.com (new window) – fantastic photo. This was taken in Montana. The photographer says that the top goat in the picture got a slap from the puma but eventually the puma gave up and disappeared. A failed mountain lion attack.
The following is an extract from a book written by W. Ogilby called “The Menageries”. It describes an encounter with a Puma (the author calls the cat a lion, which is probably how it was described in those days – a precursor to “mountain lion”). The Puma walks of and all is well for both parties! This shows the retiring nature of this wild cat that is easily tamed it seems. The book was in the Harvard College Library 1929.
It must be said at the outset that Mountain lion attacks are very rare and there is probably a distorted perception about the danger of this animal. Of course it can kill people (usually women and children are attacked if it happens at all) but the cougar will usually stay way. It is a shy and gentle creature inclined to flee from us. To put things into perspective, people in America are about 2,000 times more likely to be killed by a car than by a mountain lion. We love cars despite that! Another statistic also shocks. Your dog or your neighbors dog is 10 times more likely to kill you than a mountain lion. Yet we live with dogs and shoot mountain lions in fear of them (see below the story of a mountain lion shot for attacking a dog). If a person is on a trail in the wilderness he or she is far more likely to be hurt in an accident of his own making than by a mountain lion. These are true and they should but rarely do correct people’s distorted perceptions.
Reported (actuals are probably higher but slight enough to not warrant reporting) attacks per year are at 5.6 per year over the USA and Canada (for 1991 to 2003) with under one (0.8) deaths per year from the attacks. It is probably that a significant number of these mountain lion attacks were due to people not taking commonsense precautionary measures such as (a) not taking a dog (a dog attracts the cougar not deterring it) (b) walking in groups (c) keeping children and smaller people in the group. In the event of an attack to stand firm and see the cat off by (a) putting children on the man’s shoulders to make the man appear larger and protect the child (b) be aggressive and spread arms out (c) using a branch as a weapon. They do not need to be shot dead.
As a person who positively hates the idea of shooting a cougar (or any other creature without very good cause), I found it difficult to prepare this page. A lot of the videos are of cougar attacks on people or more accurately half hearted attacks. On many occasions our response is to then shoot the animal or try and shoot it. The response is not proportional, in my opinion. Even when the attack is against a dog this happens. OK, I understand that it is difficult to accept it if a mountain lion attacks your dog. But to shoot the animal?! Isn’t there some responsibility on us to ensure our dogs are not running around loose whereby we permit a cougar to attack? And these cats are shy of humans and if they aren’t it is because they have become accustomed to us, which is due to human settlement sprawl.
In short almost all the reasons why a mountain lion might attack people or a person’s dog is due to people. So why blame the cat and kill the cat? Hunting, of course is even worse but I accept that there are some people in the USA and South America, who like to shoot dead innocent and beautiful wild animals for the fun of it. I just don’t get it.
I cover some ground on cougar feeding ecology (hunting and killing prey) below. But first here is a video of a dead cougar and an injured dog (new window – I can’t embed it because the author wont allow it) . In this video, the cougar dared to attack a dog (that survived) and then unfortunately came back and got shot. The person who made the video made no attempt to discuss the reason why a cougar was attacking dogs. He just saw it as an opportunity to get his rifle and shoot it. I wonder if that was within the law? (ANSWER: It is legal to hunt Pumas in many western American states, although hunting was banned in California – 1990 – but is this hunting?). For me, though, it is morally wrong but there are vast numbers of Americans who would vehemently disagree with me. The guy could have chased the cat away; simple. That, though, wouldn’t be so much fun would it? And it would require a bit of courage. Some cougars (females) in Colorado weigh no more than a 12 year old boy or less (see below). Are we frightened? If a man wants to show how macho he is why doesn’t he try and chase the cougar away.
The method to deal with a mountain lion attack on onself is to frighten the cat not to kill it and further to not stimulate the cat’s hunting instinct. Wild Cougars can be chased away by aggressive movement and with noise and arm waving. Fighting back by throwing a stone and/or a stick and making some noise that is unusual to the Cougar has a good chance of frightening off the cat (src: www.wemjournal.org).
There are other things that could be done to avoid a puma such as (a) not approaching the animal (b) avoiding triggering the cat’s hunting instinct by not running past the cat or away from the cat (c) not bending or crouching in its presence (d) backing away slowly and (e) cats are crepuscular, they hunt at dawn and dusk, so avoiding these times when going near an area where the wild cougar might be.
Without wishing to repeat myself here is some stuff from the Texas Parks and Wildlife (reworded)
Avoiding a Mountain lion attack:
- areas where you walk at night should be lit
- areas near your home should be free of vegetation where a mountain lion can hide
- don’t feed wildlife
- avoid creating prey for the mountain lion e.g. walking with a dog or cat
- walk with other people and not at dawn and dusk, the times at which cats often like to hunt (crepuscular)
- Carry a walking stick when walking
- don’t approach the cougar
Dealing with a mountain lion:
- stop children running as this is perceived as prey and children are most often attacked as they are the smallest
- remain calm and back away slowly while looking at the mountain lion
- if the cat is aggressive, appear larger than you are by raising arms and/or the walking stick, throw rocks and sticks and speak loudly and firmly. Fight back and drive the cat off.
A quick aside: The following link is to a page about a truly macho man but a tender man too. He lived with cheetahs in Africa to learn about them and help them. He faced them down with nothing but nerve and intelligence: Living With Cheetahs.
In this next video we have a group of people who are out to film a mountain lion, it seems. One of them has a camera and the other a gun! Brilliant. The cougar attacks one of the men. The attack is rather feeble to be honest. No harm done and another person frightens the cat away with a stick. That’s it (is this video a set up, it could be as it looks a bit false to me?). There is another video (the next one down) about a boy who got a scratched head from a cougar; evidence that these attacks are only exceptionally fatal or truly dangerous. Anyway here’s a rather feeble mountain lion….attack:
This video has been removed by the video maker or YouTube – not surprising really.
The next one (below the table), as mentioned, is about a boy (a brave and sensible boy) who meets a mountain lion in what appears to be his back garden. It was dark. The cougar approached out of bushes and the boy thought it was a domestic cat initially (the neighbour’s perhaps). The cat jumps up and swats him over the head, scratching him and then the boy realises it is a cougar and runs off. That is it. The police, the fire service and the rest (how about the army?) were called out and permission to shoot the cat was granted. The cougar escaped. I hope it stayed away but I doubt it. Maybe the cougar is hungry because of habitat loss or prey loss due to human activity. There will be a human reason in there somewhere.
The fact is the mountain lion can be quite small and they are “gentle, retiring cats, more eager to flee than fight….” (Wild Cats Of The World by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist – I have taken the liberty to quote as it carries more weight if it comes from such as renown book). For example in Colorado, USA:
|Sex of Puma||Weight and notes (sample from Colorado, USA) – src: Wild Cats Of The World|
|Male||61.6 kg (8 males). This is 136 lbs – note these cats can, though, reach up to 250 lbs (src: Big Cat Rescue) – this figure is probably exceptional.|
|Female||44.5 kg (14 females). This is 98 lbs or 7 stones. This is the weight of 12 year old white boy (src: www.halls.md)|
The next video (below), as I say in the caption, is the real thing; a mountain lion attack on a deer. It happened on the morning of Aug. 8, 2008 in Divide, Colorado. So, no daft human shooting the cougar for the hell of it; just a cougar surviving. This is a good opportunity to talk about the feeding ecology of the mountain lion.
Puma (more scientific name), cougar or mountain lion feeding ecology
Not only is the puma very flexible as to habitat, the same can be said about its prey, which varies from a mouse to a moose. The size depends on where they live (the latitude i.e. how far north or south). However, in the USA, deer is the most common prey and the average weight of prey taken is 39-48 kg. In respect of people, children, it seems, are most at risk of attack. This once again informs people that it is better to take proactive steps to ensure a child’s safety from potential puma attack in their territory than to react to an attack by killing the Puma. In the first method there are no deaths or injuries and in the second, two individuals are hurt.
Back to animal prey! Pumas will take what ever is available and that is the easiest to catch. This means favouring older or younger animals as they are more vulnerable.
Prey as large as elk are taken in temperate zones (see video below, for example). In contrast, prey that is less than half its weight are hunted in tropical areas. Temperate zones are between the tropics and polar circles. Also the prey changes with the season in North America.
Here is a chart showing prey by region:
|North America (except Florida)||60-80% deer – mean weight 39-48 kg.|
|Florida, USA||Feral pigs, raccoons armadillos – mean weight 17 kg. This is due to a lack of deer in Florida. Deer = 1/3rd of puma diet in Florida|
|Central America (Costa Rica etc.) and South America||Small to medium sized mammals of 1-15 kg in weight, such as hares, paca and pudu and larger prey such as cattle and pampas deer.|
|Mexico||Most common prey: White tailed deer:- Photo by Beaker’s Glassworks, Jewellery & Things|
|Venezuelan Ilanos||Most common: peccaries, white tailed deer (see above), capybara, caiman. Mean weight 8.4 kg|
|Chile (winter and spring)||Guanacos: Photo by Sheep”R”Us|
In a mountain lion attack the cat will use cover to stalk prey. Cover is important for success rates. The cat charges the prey from cover and from a relatively short distance (20-50 odd metres) preferring an attack from high ground. The impact on the prey knocks the animal over (this can break the animal’s neck). Larger prey are killed by suffocation by the puma clamping its jaws on the prey’s neck and holding with its claws. Smaller prey is usually killed by bite to the back of the neck. Rarely larger prey are killed by a bite to base of the prey’s neck breaking the neck. This reflects the fact that the puma has some domestic cat (previously the European wildcat) characteristics.
A mountain lion attack on a large animal poses real risks to the puma. If it is injured to the point of being incapacitated it will likely die of starvation. Sometimes pumas are killed in an attack by, for example, falling over a cliff edge.
Mountain lions eat about 2.2 t0 3.6 kg of meat. Other studies indicate 10 kg in 24 hours and 1.6 to 5.5 kg per day. Pumas will drag the carcass under cover or cover it with leaves, grass etc. if the intention is to return. Pumas are very strong and can move large carcasses considerable distances. There are old stories of people sleeping in the wild out in the open who have been covered by leaves etc. by a Puma. Regrettably (
for me) these people were aware of what was happening and shot the cat.
Mountain Lion Attack – Conflict Resolution
People persecute the puma right across its range by hunting it in retaliation of livestock being attacked and taken. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ says that there is a need to implement programs to lessen the occurrence of this cycle of events. The solution as ever is in our hands. They are also opportunistic pumas that sometimes kill horses, for example, and they can kill to a surplus (much more than in needed). See the video below of a lamb being taken at a farm (the last half of the video can be ignored as it shows nothing new).
It is down to the farmer/rancher to protect the livestock; no point blaming the puma. They just do what comes naturally and we know the potential dangers. There is an unwarranted perceived threat to deer herds causing people to persecute the animal. The experts conclude in assessing numerous studies that there is little evidence to suggest that pumas have an impact on deer herd size. Mountain l ion attacks on deer herds, overall are inconsequential say Mel and Fiona Sunquist in their book Wild Cats Of The World, which I highly recommend and which was the primary source of information for this page including Flickr, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ and Wikipedia.
Mountain lion attack – All still Photos: published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License — this site is for charitable purposes in funding cat rescue.
I am indebted to this site: http://tchester.org/sgm/lists/lion_attacks.html#stats for statistics on attacks.
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