Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are large cats that live throughout most of the western United States and Florida. They are known by many names, including puma, panther, and cougar. There are significant populations of these wildcats as far south as Texas and as far north as Washington state.
While mountain lion attacks are rather rare, hikers need to know that when they are out in the wilderness, they may be in a cougar’s territory. These animals are typically independent and have huge individual territories that can span 25 and 500 square kilometers. This means that mountain lions sometimes seem to appear suddenly, since it may take years for them to wander to parts of this area. Therefore, if there were no mountain lions on your last hike, it does not necessarily mean you won’t encounter one on your next one.
There are indications that you may be in a cat’s territory. Avoid animal carcasses, especially those that have signs of being buried. This could be a mountain lion’s prey. The animals return to kills to feed later and defend their food ferociously. Mountain lions, especially males, mark their territory with piles of leaves (which they urinate on) and scratch marks on trees.
If confronted by a puma, there are some things you can do to hopefully scare the cat off. They are naturally afraid of humans and are unlikely to attack, but if a puma is threatening you by growling, crouching, and stalking, you should be careful. There are many reasons to never hike alone and being safe from animal attacks is one of them. Additionally, you may be able to scare it off by making your body physically appear bigger. You can do this by standing tall and spreading your jacket or shirt open. Be loud and intimidating. If you have a child with you, put him or her on your shoulders. This makes you both appear bigger, which can dissuade the lion from attacking.
You should never run from a mountain lion, because this is likely to make the animal chase you. Instead back away slowly. If you are attacked, don’t give up hope. Do everything in your power to remain standing and don’t hesitate to bash its head with a rock or any other possible weapons you may be able to find.
As previously noted, mountain lion attacks are incredibly rare. Knowing what to do to when one of these powerful creatures is behaving as a threat can keep attack this rate low.