You’re running (duh!). And that automatically puts you on a mountain lion’s hit list. Not because these big cats love human snacks, or that they are innately vicious creatures, but rather because they have a mad instinct to chase. Most road runners won’t come across this natural hazard (and I say most because sometimes wild animals end up wandering outside of their natural habitat), but trail runners should be keenly aware that the danger is real. Let’s break it down.
The bad news: You are the intruder. You are running in their territory. This makes you automatically attractive to these predators because they don’t differentiate you from an animal that they normally stalk as prey. And since you’re running, you have already started off on a bad foot.
The good news: Mountain lions tend to go out of their way to avoid human contact. They won’t seek you out for the thrill of attacking a human, they would much rather find a deer for dinner.
These are some things you should know for when/if you encounter this crafty cat:
- Know your foe. The first key in protecting yourself is knowing your enemy. Mountain lions, also known as cougars, are the largest wildcats in North America. With the jumping ability to leap as high as 15 feet and as far as 40, they’ve got some serious hops. Their normal prey consists of deer, raccoons, rabbits, beavers, porcupines, squirrels, and mice if they’re desperate. There are an estimated 30,000 mountain lions in the western U.S., and this amazing, predatory creature demands some serious respect.
- Run in the sun. AKA, avoid dusk and dawn, and low-light days. These are the times that mountain lions come out to look for food. It’s like grocery shopping, they’re looking around for what’s available. Since these big cats are crepuscular, they are most active at dusk and dawn, much like your domesticated kitty at home.
- Look as human as possible. Sounds simple, but it’s important. Bright colors, patterns, and other non-animal looking characteristics will help to separate you from looking like what a mountain lion would see as dinner. They’re prowling for a bite to eat, and even though they’re color blind, they don’t come across many deer wearing stripes or contrasting tones. This isn’t so hard for runners because most of our clothing is bright with high visibility characteristics. Needless to say, avoid wearing any sort of dark, earth tones, and please, dear God, no cammo.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Especially when crouching down or leaning over. This posture makes the back of the head and neck more vulnerable, and the position makes you more “like” the animals that the mountain lion seeks as prey. Mountain lions typically attack from behind, breaking the neck of their prey by biting at the base of the skull. So watch your back. Literally.
- Don’t run. I know, you were running in the first place. But if you suspect that a mountain lion is near, it’s in your best interest to stop and assess the situation. Lions sprint at speeds approaching 45 mph so outrunning them is just plain not gonna happen, and like I said before, if you’re running, they’re going to chase you. And catch you.
- Maintain eye contact. That’s right, mean mug. You’re looking at this fierce feline like he just hit on your girlfriend. Back off, buddy, I’m the alpha – I’m in charge.
- Get big. Stand up tall, arms out, be strong. If you’re in a group or have a dog with you (hopefully leashed), stand close together. Be as big as you can be. This is much more intimidating to the mountain lion, and he may see you as a predator instead of potential prey. You want that.
- Be loud. Again, you are differentiating yourself from the big cat’s typical prey. Yell, shout, clap your hands. Be firm and loud, and speak slowly. Speaking quickly is a nervous behavior and the big kitty will read it as fear.
- Throw stuff. Rocks, sticks, anything at all (not my new shoes!). Because deer don’t throw stuff, the mountain lion will realize that you aren’t a typical snack.
- Never turn your back. Not only is this submissive behavior, it also puts you in a vulnerable position for being attacked. Even while moving slowly away from the animal you should face it. Also, make sure that you aren’t between a momma and her little lion cubs. Because it will make things infinitely worse for you if you start inching toward her babies. Additionally, it is worth note that you should provide a line of escape so that the mountain lion doesn’t feel cornered. Nobody puts kitty in the corner.
- Fight back. You’ve gotta fight… for your right… to saaaaafety. (Excuse my Beastie Boys reference.) Whatever you do, don’t play dead. If the mountain lion decides to attack, you must defend yourself. At this point, scaring the lion off with any ninja skills you may have is going to determine whether you survive or not. Time for full-on #beastmode.
Have you had any encounters with a mountain lion? How did you approach the situation?