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Cougar Territory Survival

Recognizing the Presence of a Cougar
You can expect that you are in cougar territory if you are hiking in a northwestern national park in the U.S., so keep an eye out for the presence of these tan, gray or reddish-brown big cats with white chests and muzzles. Some mistake bobcats for cougars. Look for a very long thick tail as an obvious cougar trait. Their tracks are the size of baseballs and you may see drag marks from the tail in sand or snow. Their droppings look like blunt cylinders with bits of bone and hide. If you happen upon a deer or elk partially covered in the snow or beneath leaves and dirt, leave the area immediately because a cougar has probably buried it and will come back later for more. Also, look for claw marks on trees.

cougar walking on rocks

Safety Tips:

1. Those who are running, biking or crouched over are especially tempting to a cougar.

2. Though many of the documented cougar attacks have occurred in broad daylight, cougars are most active at night, so stay indoors between dusk and dawn.

3. Keep Fluffy and Fido indoors if you live in cougar territory and don't count on Killer being able to scare off a big cat while hiking.

4. If you feed animals that cougars like to eat, you increase the likelihood that one will start hanging around your house.

5. Scan your surroundings while hiking, checking overhead ledges and brush and look behind you occasionally.

If a cougar does not retreat:

1. Keep in mind most cougar attacks on people are done by healthy animals. If one comes after you, most likely it is regarding you as prey.

2. Never turn your back on a cougar or run because that is an invitation to be chased and jumped.

3. Maintain eye contact and be certain you are not blocking the cougar's escape route.

4. Look as large as possible by lifting your jacket or just your arms above your head, slowly moving them back and forth. Back up slowly.

5. Get on a nearby rock to look taller. If a branch is in reach, shake it.

6. Hold children close or put them on your shoulders to look larger if you can do so without kneeling.

7. While touring a wildlife sanctuary, my guide claimed that an air horn would startle a cougar enough to make it leave you alone. However, I once read a story about a man who shot off something like firecrackers, which scared the cougar away for a time, but it returned out of curiosity and was closer the second time. Somehow the man, who was tenting alone, never got attacked. Using pepper spray would be a more effective deterrent than an air horn, in my opinion.

8. Other weapons could be a walking stick, rocks, camera, your fists or any object you can find.

9. If the cougar is hissing, twitching it's tail, and showing its teeth, it may be getting ready to attack. If it starts pumping its hind feet - just like a domestic cat - it may be preparing to jump.

10. Holler with all your might and show your teeth, proving you are ready to fight. Cougars tend not to expend too much energy on one kill, so there's a good chance it will give up if you are a grown adult and you give it all you've got.

A Toddler is an Irresistible Treat
Since the majority of cougar victims have been women and children who were alone (or with other children), they should be especially vigilant not to be on their own in cougar territory, even being careful to not hike ahead or lag behind in a group. The smaller a person is and the higher the pitch of their voice, the more appealing they are to the cougar.

While visiting a wildlife sanctuary recently, I was amazed at the sudden change in demeanor of a certain cougar when our group approached his cage. At first he rubbed his head affectionately along the fence at the sight of the tour guide who talked to him sweetly. Then he caught sight of a blond two-year-old cherub in our midst and suddenly it was as if no one else in our group existed. The big cat's eyes grew big and fixated on the squealing child as he rapidly paced his cage, obviously trying to figure out how he could escape and sink his teeth into that bouncing treat just 3 or 4 feet away. The toddler's dad was advised to keep a tight grip on his son's arm because the boy was intrigued by the large kitty and wanted to stick his hand through the fence. After that incident I clearly saw that children should be kept extremely close to their parents while hiking and picked up if a cougar should come in sight.

cougar behind bush Be Alert
After reading numerous accounts of fatal and non-fatal cougar attacks in various states, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park near San Diego sounds like one of the most risky places to hike. I would always bring someone with me regardless of my size. Even men who were hunting in the woods have been charged by cougars and had to shoot them in order to save their own lives. So big and small alike should be on the alert in the wild. Though it's very rare to even see a cougar, because they stalk their prey, sometimes following them for an hour, and appear more unpredictable, the big cats' presence in the wild is definitely something to be prepared for.


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