Mountain lions, also called pumas and cougars, are without a doubt, the apex predators of the west. These sleek, fast, and stealthy ambush predators have been known to attack both pets and people. While this is unusual, mountain lions are unpredictable and can be extremely dangerous.
For example, a group of campers was sitting around a campfire in an established campground, when a cougar charged into camp. The predator knocked the campers out of their lawn chairs and grabbed their dog. Luckily, the dog was found, deeply shaken but relatively unharmed. While this case is highly unusual, it did happen, at a developed campground, near a major road and in front of a blazing fire.
While coyotes are often seen and heard, there will likely be no sign whatsoever that a cougar is in the vicinity. If you do spot a mountain lion around a developed campground, notify the rangers. Generally, these magnificent predators avoid humans, but once again, they are unpredictable and have attacked people. And, they will definitely attack small children and pets.
Mountain Lion Safety Tips
First of all, do not leave small children or pets unattended outside. This common-sense rule will also help to protect them from coyotes, wolves, bears, or simply from getting lost. Do not let your children or pets become easy prey to predators.
While pumas are not known to rummage through trash like bears or coyotes, the second common-sense rule is, do not leave trash outside.
While feeding deer may seem unrelated to mountain lions, these apex predators hunt deer. If you feed the deer and they hang around your camp, you could also attract cougars and other apex predators.
When setting up a camp in cougar country, choose a campsite away from rock overhangs, cliffs, thick brush, and animal trails.
When hiking, wear bright, high-contrast clothing and do not go alone, hike in groups. If you bring children or dogs hiking, do not let them roam free, stay together in a group. As you hike, make noise; talk, play a radio, or even wear a bell.
Do not crouch, squat, or bend over; this could make you appear to be a four-legged prey animal to a puma.
If you do encounter a cougar, never run, that could trigger the animal’s instinct to chase down prey. Instead, make eye contact and stand your ground. Make yourself look big. You could even open your coat and hold it out to look bigger. Throw rocks, wave your arms, and yell. Convince it you are not prey. If possible, pick up small children or pets without bending over or turning your back.
If you are attacked, fight back. Mountain lions often go for the head and neck, so try to remain standing. Punch it, poke its eyes, hit it with a rock. Do whatever you can to stay alive.
A Magnificent Apex Predator
As the fourth largest feline in the world, mountain lions are built for speed and grace. A full-grown mountain lion can easily leap 20′ up into a tree or cliff. Their powerful claws and jaws can quickly take down large prey, including deer, elk, and livestock. Secretive and solitary, these big cats are mostly nocturnal, although daytime sightings are not unusual.
These magnificent cats can be found in the desert, the mountains, forests, and nearly anywhere west of the Rockies. There is even an isolated population of Florida panthers living deep in the pinelands swamps. While you may want to see a mountain lion, it’s better if you don’t. As ambush predators, you may not even see one until it’s too late. These beautiful and solitary creatures are best seen from a distance, or not at all.