Whether you call them cougars, cougars, or cougars, North America’s largest cats aren’t the kind of mammal you want to encounter while hiking. However, as suburban sprawl into mountain lion territory and more people exploring the great outdoors, mountain lion attacks on humans are increasing. While these attacks are extremely rare, you need to know how to defend against them, including what countermeasures to use to end the fight. We’ll ask and answer, “Do bear sprays work on cougars?”
Where do mountain lions live?
Cougars are found primarily on the west coast of the United States, throughout Central America, and most of South America, with a few exceptions. In North America, most cougars live in an area stretching from British Columbia, Canada, to the west coast of the United States and Mexico.
In the United States, these mountain lions can be found in the following states:
- Illinois (sightings)
- Iowa (sightings)
- Kansas (sightings)
- Michigan (sightings)
- Missouri (sightings)
- Nebraska (sightings)
- new mexico
- New York (sightings)
- North Dakota (sightings)
- Oklahoma (sightings)
- South Dakota
- Wisconsin (sightings)
Estimates of the cougar population vary, but there are believed to be around 20,000 to 30,000 of these cats across the United States. Other estimates, however, were higher at 40,000.
Why are cougars dangerous?
|size||weight: Average 60lbs-190lbs, Maximum 220lbs |
high: 2 feet to 3 feet at shoulder
|speed||– 30-40 mph, possibly up to 50 mph|
|defense||– high speed |
– large size
– good senses
– Ability to hide and use fur as camouflage
|offensive ability||– Strong bite force of 1311N, over 400 PSI |
– Moderately powerful jaw
– 2 inch long canine teeth
– 2.5 inch claws
|predatory behavior||– Ambushes a predator, wraps its forelimbs around the prey and brings it to the ground |
– Very quiet hunter, stalking potential prey before attacking
Mountain lions are the top predators in their range and few animals are able to attack and kill them. Their ability to stalk and attack prey is remarkable. Additionally, they are capable of an attack that is usually fatal, meaning that anyone or creature within their range needs to beware of them.
Fortunately for humans, cougars are not as big as the true big cats. Cougars are smaller than humans in most cases, so it is possible to fight them off. Still, cougars, especially the largest specimens, can kill or seriously injure humans.
How often do cougars attack humans?
Mountain lion attacks are rare. In fact, the United States has only recorded about 120 attacks and 27 fatal attacks over the past 100 years. This means you are less likely to encounter a cougar, or be seen and attacked by a cougar.
In some areas, however, mountain lion attacks are on the rise. For example, the state of California has recorded 11 mountain lion attacks over the past 20 years, one of which was fatal. The most recent five occurred within four years.
This rise in Cougar encounters can be traced to a number of changes, including:
- Expansion of humans living in cougar territory
- Puma populations on the rise
- More and more people are enjoying the outdoors in state parks
These are just some general factors that have influenced the number of mountain lion attacks in recent years. As more and more people linger in cougar territory, it is necessary to learn how to avoid attacks and what to do in the event of a confrontation.
How to Avoid a Mountain Lion Attack
Avoiding a cougar attack is a matter of being aware of your surroundings and knowing how to deal with a cougar sighting. The following tips can help you stay safe:
- Announce your presence by speaking loudly, wearing a bell, or speaking while hiking
- Look for and listen for mountain lion tracks. They don’t growl, but make a distinct squeal. Also, look for claw patterns on trees or animal carcasses.
- Do not hike alone. A lone individual is potential prey, but a group is not worth the risk of a cougar.
- Stay in close contact with your team. The children were attacked after leaving the crowd.
- If you see a cougar but it doesn’t see you, get out of the area
- Do not approach the baby cougar.
- Ask about sightings in the area before hiking.
- Only walk the trails during the day.
- Practice proper camping safety by storing food properly so you don’t attract animals to you.
These tips help prevent attacks before they start. Remember, in most cases, cougars would rather avoid conflict with humans. Keeping your distance from these animals is the safest way to deal with them. That being said, you don’t want to invite disaster by making yourself a suitable target.
Does bear spray work on mountain lions?
Bear spray is effective on cougars, and the concept behind its use is the same for many large predators. The capsaicin in bear spray is an irritant and may make animals flinch. However, if you are going to use bear spray on your cougar, there are a few things you need to be sure of.
- Buy a bear spray with the right spray distance
- Practice using bear spray before you bring it. You don’t want to be reading instructions while the cat is on top of you.
- Make sure you’re not spraying into the wind, or you’ll just hurt yourself.
- Keep bear spray where you can easily access it when you’re on the move.
- If possible, try to spray the animal directly with the spray.
Once the animal leaves the area, it’s best for you to do the same. Once you are safe, report the incident to the authorities.
How to Fend off a Cougar Attack
Now that we know bear spray is a good thing to keep on hand, we can take a look at how to fend off a cougar attack. If mountain lions do attack, you need to be prepared. Take a look at some of the ways you can fend off a cougar, including what to do if it turns into a fight. These tricks will work once the cougar sees you.
- Stay calm and don’t make sudden movements.
- If the cougar hasn’t spotted you yet, move away from it slowly. don’t run.
- If the cougar spots you, give it room to escape. These animals often attack when cornered. Again, don’t run.
- Don’t ignore the cougar. After all, these are ambush predators.
- Slowly move your arms or use your clothing to expand your figure and make you appear larger.
- Do not turn around or bend down to pick up anything. This opening will invite the animal to attack.
If the animal becomes aggressive or comes towards you then:
- Make noise by speaking loudly and firmly at the lion, slapping a stick, or clapping slowly and loudly.
- Start throwing rocks or anything else at the animal to make it turn away.
- Use bear spray or pepper spray on mountain lions.
- If an animal approaches, prepare to fight and protect your head and neck from the attack.
- If attacked, fight back with everything you have. Use a stick, rock, knife, or anything you can reach without bending over. Try not to allow yourself to be brought to the ground.
You can usually repel cougars with bear spray. However, if the mountain lion is still attacking, you need to be ready to fight it with all you have. There have been several cases where people have even fought off cougars with their bare hands. However, very young and very old people are still vulnerable to these animals. If you find yourself in cougar territory, it’s best to have a way of avoiding them.
Final Thoughts on Mountain Lion Safety
We’ve already answered, does bear spray work on cougars? Yes, bear spray is an effective way to prevent a physical attack from happening, potentially saving your life. However, it is also important to be proactive in keeping yourself safe in areas where cougars live.
You need to take a holistic approach to security and not depend on one project to survive. Stay vigilant, travel in packs, and know when to leave an area stalked by cougars is better than sticking to one activity.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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