Do Mountain Lions Attack People? Read This!

Mountain lions are large cats found in various places in North, Central, and South America.

They do well in a number of ecosystems, and can be found in many places as long as there’s enough prey for them. 

These animals rarely attack humans. Only around 130 attacks have taken place in North America in the last 100 years.

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Of those, fewer than 30 have been fatal. The majority of fatalities have been children or lone adults, with some states only reporting their first mountain lion-related death in 2018.

Do Mountain Lions Attack People? Read This!

Although these big cats can be scary, they typically aren’t something you should worry about too much. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about mountain lions and their attacks on people, keep reading!

We’ll also cover what you need to know about recognizing mountain lion territory, how to prevent attacks, and what to do in the case you ever were attacked. 

Do Mountain Lions Attack People?

Mountain lions have attacked people, but they rarely do.

In the whole of North America, there are thought to only have been 27 or so cougar attacks that have ended in deaths in the last 100 years.

There have been around 130 attacks in that time. These attacks have rarely proven fatal, and there have been only two confirmed fatalities in the past century in Washington.

The first fatal attack was in 1924, and the other in 2018. 

The majority of reported attacks, some of which may be false, have been on children.

This is especially the case when it comes to fatal attacks, as many victims have been between the ages of 3-13. Some states, like Oregon, only reported their first ever fatal cougar attack in 2018. 

The vast majority of mountain lions will prefer to keep their distance from humans. Even coming across them on a hike or bike ride is a rare occurrence.

Overall, it’s something that you should always be cautious of, but not something that should put you off enjoying the outdoors. 

Who Do Mountain Lions Attack?

The majority of mountain lion attacks that have been reported involve hikers or cyclists.

Most people who experienced an encounter were out in the wilderness.

This makes sense, as hiking on trails and mountain biking are very popular sports, and often take you into mountain lion territory.

These reports are simply a reflection of how much of these animals’ territory we have taken over as the years have passed.

Even so, the number of attacks is still incredibly low considering how many millions of people enjoy outdoor activities every year.

If mountain lions were actively seeking to attack humans, the number of attacks would be in the thousands, and fatalities would be in the hundreds.

Overall, there have been very few reported attacks that have not taken place on trails or national parks.

Other attacks have happened in city suburbs, such as the Sacramento suburbs, where a 5-year-old was killed while riding his tricycle in 1989. 

When these attacks happen, the animal involved is tracked down and exterminated.

This prevents them from looking for more people to attack, as some animals learn that humans are easy targets. 

How You Can Protect Yourself Against Mountain Lions?

Do Mountain Lions Attack People? Read This!

If you’re going out into mountain lion territory, you need to know how to protect yourself and others.

It’s crucial to carry either pepper or bear spray in case of an encounter. Bear spray is preferred as it has a stronger and wider spray (we have a whole article about bear vs pepper spray).

However, both options work wonderfully when used correctly. 

Whichever option you carry, it should always be in reach while you’re out.

Attaching it to your backpack where you can pull it from a clip is ideal. Always ensure you can reach for it and grab it easily at a moment’s notice.

Both tools are effective when used optimally. However, mountain lions are excellent stalkers, and you might not be aware of their presence until they are right beside you.

In these cases, you might not have the chance to use your bear or pepper spray. 

Because of this, it is crucial for you to always be aware of your surroundings and never jog with earbuds in.

Doing that is the perfect way to allow something – human or animal – to sneak up on you and catch you unawares. Stay alert at all times, and be aware of your surroundings.

If you do find yourself face-to-face with a mountain lion, there are some important things for you to remember: 

  • Make yourself look as big as possible
  • Be loud
  • Don’t turn your back
  • Don’t antagonize or corner the animal 

If you’re on a hike and have trekking poles, lift them over your head and appear as big as possible.

As soon as a cougar decides that you’re too much work, or even realizes that you are a human, they’re unlikely to be interested in continuing their pursuit. 

If you’re attacked by a mountain lion, the most important thing to do is fight back. 

There have been cases of people being attacked by mountain lions and coming out alive just using a ballpoint pen.

You can use a pen, a rock, knife, stick, or anything else that is hard that you can use. Whatever you can use, aim for the animal’s eyes and nose. These are two extremely sensitive areas.

If you have bear spray or pepper spray to use accurately, then this could also save you or your companion’s life. 

Doing outdoor activities with a partner or companion is always advised, even if you don’t hike in cougar territory.

It’s important to know that you simply may not be aware that it’s mountain lion territory.

Not only that, but there are also plenty of other dangers, and many of them walk on two legs instead of four.

Having a partner with you will not only act as a deterrent, but it also gives you a better chance of fighting off an attack. 

There have been a number of cases where jogging or biking partners have been able to successfully scare off a mountain lion attack by using all the same methods mentioned above. 

It is important to never bend down to pick up a rock or something else to throw if it puts you in a vulnerable position.

Always try to remain standing, or else the cougar will have the advantage of being able to use all four legs to be stronger. 

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prevent a mountain lion attack if you’re out. 

Preventing A Mountain Lion Attack

Preventing an attack is always better than dealing with an attack itself. Knowing what to do and what not to do is a crucial element of this.

Chances are, you will start to see signs of cougars in the area as soon as you learn what you should be looking for.

Depending on where you are, cougars might be pretty common. You should also pay close attention to the rangers and all signs that are in place.

Too often, people ignore the signs and walk straight into a cougar den. While this might have lucky endings for many, you should never take a chance.

If you notice the signs of a mountain lion while out, you should prepare yourself for an attack. Do this even if the signs look old.

A cougar will be aware of you first 99.9% of the time, and you always need to be prepared.  

Get your trekking poles out so that you can use them, and ready your bear or pepper spray.

You should go into overdrive and be extremely alert to every single thing around you. Make a lot of noise, too.

Most mountain lions will run in the other direction once they become aware of your presence, but don’t count on it.

There will always be some cats that are braver or more inquisitive than others.

What To Look Out For On A Trail?

Do Mountain Lions Attack People? Read This!

The moment you step onto a trail, you need to be extremely vigilant. This can be difficult if you’re on a trail with a family, but it’s necessary.

Children and dogs are excellent at diverting your attention, but you need to have one eye on both at all times. 

Here is a list of things that you should look out for while on a trail:

  • Perfect cougar prey – seeing any kind of animal that would be ideal for a cougar to prey on (sheep, deer, or anything similar are perfect for cougars).
  • Animal carcasses in the area – seeing animal carcasses, whether they are old or fresh. Mountain lions will happily chow down on a carcass they find, and it doesn’t matter if they killed it or not. They are opportunistic, and the smell of the carcass could easily attract them.
  • Mountain lion feces – seeing mountain lion feces or scat is a surefire sign that there are mountain lions in the area. This might be difficult to recognize, but it often has hair in it. Other than that, it looks relatively similar to human feces. If the scat is moist and warm, then you could be in danger. If it is old and dry, you could still be in danger. 
  • Cougar tracks – seeing cougar tracks in the area is another worrying sign that you could be in danger. Like with the feces, whether the tracks or old or new, you could still be in danger. There could be more tracks in the area that you just can’t see. If the tracks you see are fresh, then it’s time to get the trekking rods and bear spray out.

Preventative Measures

Be careful when resting. Smaller targets are easier to kill and a great way to attract a mountain lion.

If you make yourself look small, you’re more prone to an attack. Always look as big as possible, even when resting.

One of the scariest aspects of cougar attacks is that they prefer smaller targets.

This means that your pets and children will always be their go-to on the trail. ALWAYS keep your children and animals close to you.

There have been several attacks where children have died because they walked ahead of their parents on the trail. Keep animals on a lead.

Keeping pets safe can prove more difficult at times. Some large dogs may deter a mountain lion attack, but this won’t work on all cougars.

Even a large dog looks like a good meal to a mountain lion.

There’s no way of knowing which will happen, but there’s a chance that a dog might become aware of the presence of a mountain lion before you do. 

This can give you time to act, but it could also become the reason for a mountain lion attack in the first place. 

Final Thoughts 

Mountain lions are beautiful cut dangerous cats. They have been known to attack humans, but over 100 years, there have only been around 130 attacks. Of those 130 attacks, fewer than 30 were fatal. 

So, while attacks can happen, they are rare. As long as you take the right precautions and know how to protect yourself, you shouldn’t worry about it too much.

Be respectful and be smart, but you should still enjoy the outdoors when you can.

Joe Edwards
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