Seeing any kind of wildlife with sharp teeth and claws can be a scary experience for any hiker or camper. Wild life is unpredictable and a muscular cat just might be able to overpower you. So how can you deal with these sightings and what should you know about cougars? Here are some answers.
What Is A Cougar?
A cougar is also known as a mountain lion, puma, or panther depending on the region.
Where Do They Live?
They are found from Canada all the way down through South America. They like to be solitary and seek out areas that are sparsely populated. Their skittishness makes them not a huge threat to humans even when they cross paths, though if it feels threatened or hungry enough, it may attack, so you do need to be careful.
What To Do If You See One
It may surprise you but even though a cougar is a very strong wild animal who is an exceptional hunter, it doesn’t want to come into contact with you as much as you don’t want to come into contact with it. In fact, many times when humans cross paths with cougars, it is by accident and may catch both parties off guard. This is why attacks are so rare. Cougars don’t usually stalk humans.
If you come across a cougar in the wild, here are some things to remember to help you get away from the situation safely and in one piece:
It is important that the cougar doesn’t feel surrounded or it may attack. Always make sure that the cougar has a clear escape path out.
Stay calm. The last thing you want to do is to run screaming from the area, though this may be your first instinct. Cougars are hunters and if you turn your back on them and run away, you could trigger their chasing instinct. They may not be very interested in you at first, but if you present a challenge for them they may rise to the occasion.
Maintain direct eye contact. Lowering your eyes may be a sign of submission for the cougar, but it can also give it opportunity to pounce on you knowing that your reaction time will be that much longer than if you were keeping direct eye contact with it the whole time.
Gather children. If you have any kids in your hiking or camping party with you, this is the time to make sure you grab them. Tell them in a clear direct voice to stay calm and back slowly toward you. If you have very young children with you try to pick them up without bending over or turning your back toward the cougar. You never want the cougar to see you with your guard down.
Back away slowly. As mentioned earlier, you do not want to run or turn your back on the cougar. So back up slowly. You don’t want to trigger the chasing instinct in the cougar, but you also don’t want to trip and fall over anything behind you as well. Keep walking backwards until you are out of sight of the cougar. These wild cats rarely will follow you if you are backing away, so you should be able to get away fairly quickly.
If they are acting aggressively, speak loudly, clap your hands, and hold your arms above your head. Acting bigger and noisier than you really are may lower the cougar’s confidence in being able to take you down.
Fight back in an attack. Though you don’t want to provoke a cougar, if in the unlikely event that it attacks you, do not play dead. Fight back with anything you can get your hands on. Cougars have very sharp teeth and claws and are very muscular animals, so you will need to use anything near you like large or sharp rocks, sticks, or tools to your advantage.
How To Avoid Meeting Up With One
You cannot completely eliminate the risk of running into a cougar if you live in cougar country, however, there are things you can do to ensure you’re not attracting them to where you live or recreate. Here are some tips for not attracting cougars:
Never feed any wildlife. Even if you’re just feeding a squirrel or raccoon, cougars follow prey, so you don’t really want prey to be hanging around you.
Keep pets on a leash. Again, cougars follow prey. They are not typically interested in humans, but they might be interested in eating your pet dog. If your dog is safely on a leash and not running around on its own, a cougar is much less likely to strike.
Do not camp near your food. Cougars are not usually interested in campers food, but if there have been a lot of campers in the area that don’t seal their food properly, a cougar may have gotten a taste of human food and might come back for more.
Carry deterrent spray. Make sure you know how to use this before you come into contact with a cougar. You don’t want to be fumbling with the spray in a time of desperation.
Do not wander around at dusk and dawn. Cougars hunt mostly at these hours when it is much darker and it is easier to hide themselves. Try to avoid hiking at these hours if you can. If you are camping, make a fire and gather everyone around it. Keep a close eye on children at all times.
Make noise. Obviously, many hikers seek out the wild to escape the noises of every day life, but making noise while you are hiking will alert wildlife that you are there and will give them a chance to move along.
Have you ever encountered any kind of predators in your camping or hiking experience? Did you try any of these methods to get away from the animal? What are some other tips you would suggest to fellow hikers and campers?