A new study of 185 cougar attacks suggests that in some circumstances it may, in some circumstances, be better to run when encountering a mountain lion out on the trails, provided of course you don’t go stumbling around on uneven terrain or rocks looking like a wounded animal. You might as well ring a dinner bell for the big cat. So what do the numbers say? From the article:
half of the 18 people who ran when they were attacked escaped injury. The study also found, however, that those who ran had a slightly higher chance of being killed in an attack—28 percent (five) of those who fled died as a result of injuries, compared with 23 percent (eight) of those who remained motionless during big cat attacks. About 39 percent, or 28 people, who moved away slowly when approached by a mountain lion escaped without injury.
On the other hand, people who froze were the least likely to escape injury when a mountain lion attacked. Only 26 percent of them escaped. They also had the greatest frequency of severe injuries: 43 percent of those who stood still in the face of a lion were badly injured compared with 17 percent of those who fled, according to the study.
So there’s some pretty complex risk analysis to undertake when encountering a cougar. Well, let’s see, if I run there’s a slightly less risk of serious injury, but a slightly higher risk of death if things go awry. Thirty nine percent chance of getting away by moving away slowly. What to do? “Wait a minute guy, I’m figuring out my options here.” One thing of course, is that we don’t know all the specifics of all these cases, but I suspect that letting the cougar know you are aware of its presence and walking away slowly, especially if the terrain is uneven, might be the best bet. It certainly looks like just remaining motionless is not the best option.
A detailed listing of cougar attacks in California can be found here. The 2004 attacks (or attack, it looks as though one of the deaths may have been a heart attack) occurred behind the backyard of a friend who used to live there, and where we had previously hiked. My friend had probably seen one of the mountain lions on a previous hike where he was alone. My friend saw the cat on a hill, watching him. He slowly backed up and got out.
I have not had any encounters myself. The closest encounter I’ve had in California was staring down a coyote in Chino Hills State Park where I occasionally do some trail running. The above picture is from the Chino Hills State park web site, so there are also mountain lions there as well. Other mammals in the park are here.
Of course, we are visiting and encroaching on their home. This was their home before humans even got here. Statistically, it is still very rare to be attacked by a cougar, but one does need to be aware of their presence when in their home and be smart.