Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mountain Lion, Cougar, Puma…..Oh, My!

Wow….I have really just freaked myself out. I knew this would happen…....and yet I did it anyway.

I read the book.

What was I thinking?????

It was a wonderful book. The author is a most excellent storyteller, as she called herself. I was spellbound from the start. She painted pictures in my mind… I did not need…....knew existed....….did not want…......but could not walk away from….....

I actually read the Afterward first, with curiosity. Then, the book became my constant companion for the next few days…..interrupting my 50 pages into Don Quixote.

And, my heart rate climbed, my breathing increased (both already a problem with this mild asthma)….my imagination worked overtime. I felt slight panic symptoms. Yikes.

I even had to call a friend to get this off of my mind…….the poor thing…...she lives in cougar country, too.

The title of this fascinating and frightening book?

Fear, Fact, and the Uncertain Future of Cougars in America
by Jo Deurbrouck, 2007.

I live in cougar country. My backyard butts up against mountain ranges, including the Trinity Alps, that extend almost all the way to the Pacific Coast. We have spent numerous hours in the woods, meadows and mountains behind my house…..hiked the local locales….walked trails in the Sierra Nevadas…….I even lived in the Sierra Nevadas as a teen and young adult.

I knew they were there, those mountain lions. I knew sighting them was rare. I knew attack by a mountain lion was rare. I still know it is rare. But…..I cannot get those images the author painted for me out of my psyche. Not yet. It is so fresh. I feel like I was a witness, her stories were so raw.

I leave my house….....and I think there is a mountain lion watching……I arrive home, I feel watched. I am nervous to send the kids out to the chicken coop now.

Then, I start thinking about all of our visits to the meadow and woods behind our house……I am sure we were watched then. I am sure.

Then, I remember those four hours…..Maddelyn, Garrett and I spent in the wild, exploring, while Marty, Matthew & Terry hiked a local mountain to the peak….I am sure we must have been watched then. Even though I know, six years later, we are all safe, I still feel a little sick to my stomach.

Once, when I was in town….Matthew must have been babysitting……he saw a mountain lion in our yard. He tried to video tape it for us…but, well, he had some issues with holding the camera still……still, it did look like a mountain lion…the only animal that could have fit his description.

And, a couple of weeks later, he thought he saw a mountain lion tail go behind a bush on our property…..the dogs started barking like crazy at the same time at the same spot, for a very long time. The G-Family was visiting then and there were about eight little people playing on our giant swingset. We put ourselves on high alert, but we let the children play.

And, all of those things we are told to do, to be safe…….be loud, be big…..just do not seem to work, after reading these stories. Mountain lions are unpredictable. The scientists have not totally figured them out yet.

One thing that helps my imagination to stabilize is the fact that seems (to me) most of the attacks and killings seem to be where cities meet the wilderness……like Southern California. That is not the case here……and I have not ever heard of any attacks in this part of California.
I do know that there was one killed at the nearby California State park....because it sat next to a trail "watching" people. My friend's husband worked there.......he told me this story.

Something that really creeps me out in the book are the stories about cougar attacks (including a death) and sightings at Cuyamaca, in Southern California……especially severe in the 1990’s. I had no idea. My mother-in-law, before she became ill with ALS, worked in that area. In the 1990’s, her entire family of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and some great-nieces and nephews spent a day there, picnicking, in her memory. Once again, I wonder….were we watched? With all those kids? Creepy.

Mountain lions follow the deer….....the deer are plentiful here… the deer scat “burning” our lawn tells me. As my dented Honda tells me....the one that had been hit by a doe one dawn. Wonder if it was running from a cougar?? ;)

I must stay rational:

Millions of families go hiking every year without mishap.
~~~~To be honest, it is this statistic that has always given me comfort. But, now, it is not so much my worry about meeting a mountain lion…it is that if I DO come face to face with one…..I now know too much about the outcome of such a meeting. WAY TOO MUCH. I have never been brave like that…..only brave enough for childbirth and dentistry and traveling cross-country with six kids. That is where my courage reaches. I have no courage for cougars. None now, especially.

We will go into the woods as we always have…....we will. I think. I will just always be nervous from now on….and, I will carry a weapon. No, I won’t, not really…..I have no idea how to use one. I will update my pepper spray. I have been lax about carrying it and a whistle lately. No more.

A quote from the book: as one parent told the author,
“It is not the level of risk that is disturbing. It’s the nature of the risk.”

This is what sums it up for me.

Just some links I found........

Commonly Asked Questions About Mountain Lions

For example:

If I live in mountain lion habitat, how concerned should I be for my safety?
Statistically speaking, a person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion. That said, mountain lions are wild animals and, like any wildlife, can be dangerous. People who live in mountain lion habitat can take precautions to reduce their risk of encountering a mountain lion. By deer-proofing the landscape, homeowners can avoid attracting a lion’s main food source. Removing dense vegetation from around the home and installing outdoor lighting will make it difficult for mountain lions to approach unseen.

Are mountain lion attacks on humans common?
Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare. There have been only 16 verified mountain lion attacks on humans in California since 1890, six of them fatal. The last documented attack occurred in January, 2007, in Humboldt County.

List of Attacks on people in California
Interesting how the first documented case of a mountain lion attack and killing is in my own 1890.

Oh, not at Prairie Creek State Park, too.......we go there often. And, the attack may have been right where we hiked those 6 miles with the kids. Stay calm :)

Mountain Lion Attacks On People in the U.S. and Canada

List of Mountain Lion Encounters With People in California

Mountain lion sightings, summer/fall 2009, in Northern California

Nice. Two sightings in Arcata..........where we sometimes play.

Quote: "And mountain lions are NOT LIKE BEARS, either….with mountain lions, there’s no drama, no encounter, no time to react. You don’t just run into a mountain lion on a trail and then he attacks you; mountain lions don’t invade your campsite trying to get in your cooler; mama lions don’t let their cubs get in your way; the lion doesn’t growl at you like a bear and stand up and clack its teeth.

Mountain lions don’t have bad tempers, they aren’t twice as big as you, and they don’t think they are the freakin’ kings of the woods; so they don’t go around looking for people to beat up, partly beause humans look kind of like bears, and lions are generally afraid of bears…so…

.....unlike an encounter with a bear, if you see a mountain lion, you can be pretty sure you’re not his intended target.Sure, it’s good to stand tall and make noise, reinforce the impression that you’re a human, not a deer. But he’s probably already figured that out, and, if he ever did have any idea of eating you, he’s lost his advantage, his modus operandi for large prey, his “knock you on your face” tactic; his hard-wired hunting instincts have already already whispered “move on”… that lion’s not coming for you."

Mountain Lions and California State Parks

Verified Mountain Lion Attacks on Humans in California(1890 through 2007)

Mountain Lion Sightings Rarely Spell Trouble

From this site:

More than half of California is considered mountain lion habitat; as a general rule, mountain lions live wherever deer are present. People are observed by lions far more frequently than lions are observed by people. Studies of radio-collared mountain lions show that lions tend to avoid people. Given the fact that there are well over 30 million people and thousands of mountain lions in California, encounters between people and lions are infrequent and attacks are extremely rare.

The DFG has issued the following recommendations for avoiding encounters with a mountain lion, as well as what to do if attacked by a mountain lion:


DON'T FEED WILDLIFE: By feeding deer, raccoons or other wildlife in your yard, you may inadvertently attract mountain lions, which prey upon them.

DEER-PROOF LANDSCAPE: Avoid using plants that deer prefer to eat; if landscaping attracts deer, mountain lions may be close by. The California Department of Fish and Game has a brochure entitled “Gardening To Discourage Deer Damage” available at most DFG offices.

LANDSCAPE FOR SAFETY: Remove dense and/or low-lying vegetation that would provide good hiding places for mountain lions, especially around children's play areas; make it difficult for mountain lions to approach a yard unseen.

INSTALL OUTDOOR LIGHTING: Keep the house perimeter well lit at night – especially along walkways – to keep any approaching mountain lions visible.

KEEP PETS SECURE: Roaming pets are easy prey for hungry mountain lions. Either bring pets inside or keep them in a kennel with a secure top. Don't feed pets outside; this can attract raccoons and other mountain lion prey.

KEEP LIVESTOCK SECURE: Where practical, place livestock in enclosed sheds and barns at night, and be sure to secure all outbuildings.

KEEP CHILDREN SAFE: Keep a close watch on children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about mountain lions and teach them what to do if they encounter one.


DO NOT HIKE ALONE: Go in groups, with adults supervising children.

KEEP CHILDREN CLOSE TO YOU: Observations of captured wild mountain lions reveal that the animals seem especially drawn to children. Keep children within your sight at all times.

DO NOT APPROACH A LION: Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

DO NOT RUN FROM A LION: Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If there are small children there, pick them up if possible so they don't panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lion.

DO NOT CROUCH DOWN OR BEND OVER: In Nepal, a researcher studying tigers and leopards watched the big cats kill cattle and domestic water buffalo while ignoring humans standing nearby. He surmised that a human standing up is just not the right shape for a cat's prey. On the other hand, a person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal. When in mountain lion country, avoid squatting, crouching or bending over, even when picking up children.

APPEAR LARGER: Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Again, pick up small children. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.

FIGHT BACK IF ATTACKED: Many potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.

How to Survive a Mountain Lion Attack

Not sure if all of what they say holds up after reading the book above....but, here are some quotes:

Coss “found that people who stood still avoided injury only 26 percent of the time. Cougars may view your lack of fight as a sign of vulnerability. Of people who backed away, 39 percent survived unscathed. And of those who booked it, 50 percent escaped without a scratch. In cases where two or more individuals happened upon a mountain lion and booked it, the fastest runner among the two or more escaped without injury 100 percent of the time.”

“According to the California Department of Fish and Game, 14 mountain lion attacks on humans have occurred in California since 1890; nine since 1992. Six attacks have resulted in fatalities — two from rabies, which is common in the animals, especially during summer months. The last death before Reynolds’ (2004) was in 1994. Here’s what the CDFG suggests you do to survive the trails in a cougar habitat:

1. Don’t ride alone: Cougars are less likely to attack groups. Ride with a partner, and stay close togther. If attacked, you can help one another.

2. Stand tall. Cougars try to bite the head or neck, so try tor emain on your feet, don’t bend over or turn away. Make yourself look bigger. Raise your arms, move them slowly, and speak in a firm, loud voice. If you’re wearing a jacket, open it. maintain eye contact with the animal.

3. Raise hell. Yell, scream, act aggressive. Whatever you do, don’t be quiet. It unnerves the animal and is an audible call for help.

4. If attacked, jab the animal’s eyes. Use something sharp — sticks, rocks, a bike pump, or your bare hands.

5. Keep fighting. Kick and punch until you can’t anymore.. Mountain lions have poor endurance. He might think that this isn’t worth it, and decide to go back to deer and other weaklings that flee.

6. Don’t ride or jog after dusk: Sundown in the mountains is near feeding time for cougars.

7. If you do ride after dusk, affix two lights to the back of your helmet: : “They look like eyes to the lions,” says Dan Cain of Borrego Springs, CA, who rides up to 30 miles per week in the desert mountains south of Palm Springs and has run across the big cats on several occasions. Charged by a lion in 1998 on the Pacific Crest Trail, he stood his ground, screamed “like a rock star,” aimed his lights into the lion’s face, and sighed with relief as the cat backed off.”


Shawna said...

Hi Chari! My mom just had a Mt. Lion cross her path, not 12 feet from her...while walking on their property a few weeks ago! He ran from her and her little dog too.

Remember my dear, nothing has changed...just your perspective. Your chances of finding trouble with a lion are so ridiculously small! And remember, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philipians 4:8" I don't think being mauled by a lion makes the list!

Just hike with your dogs! My mom's theory is that the lion will more likely eat the dog first. Ha!

Shawna said...

....and one more thing. Do you know how many MORE adults and especially children are injured, mauled, and even killed each year by family DOGS??? Yet, as the quote says, its not the threat, its the nature of the threat. We don't freak out when we walk through a neighborhood where a potentially vicious rottweiler lurks in every yard now. "Whatever is true...." (Maybe I'm talking myself down now! Ha! You know my nature is to worry...probably more than yours! :)

Gloria said...

You are always so thorough with your concerns and warnings, it's a great post! So much I didn't know.

My Bro-in-law was working on a tractor in the hills around Fresno last year and all of a sudden the farmers wife comes out of the house with a gun and fires a shot near him. Unsettling to say the least! Turns out she was firing at a cougar that she had been watching for twenty minuts as it was 'stalking' poor Billy.
Not that I wanted to add to your worries ;)

Jo Deurbrouck said...

Hey, I’m Jo Deurbrouck, the writer responsible for giving you the heeby jeebies. I got a kick out of your blog. : )

One of the things I learned from that book is that the author – this author, anyway – is no judge of impact. And I haven’t met the publisher that will suggest that an author tone down the shock and awe. ; )

‘Stalked by a Mountain Lion’ is actually a revision of a book I cowrote with a friend back in 2001 or so. When that first version came out, readers told me the discussion and careful research we intended to be the takeaway got lost in the fright factor.

The takeaway was supposed to be that management of a species capable both of coexisting with us and – very occasionally – preying upon us is hugely problematic; that in the end management decisions are more about human feelings than cougar biology; and that as a result we are not doing a good job either of protecting cougars or ourselves.

What most people said they learned? Cougars are scary and they will hurt you.

I felt terrible. Increasing fears was not helping the cougar’s cause, nor would it likely lead to effective management practices.

So a few years later I updated the research, added some chapters the first publisher hadn’t thought exciting enough and, believe it or not, toned down the raw details. Globe Pequot demanded the sensational title or it would have been something mellow like ‘Track of the Lion.’

I thought I had left in just enough excitement so that the book would get read and talked about. What I didn’t do –a mistake I don’t make anymore – is ask test readers if I’d toned it down enough.

Maybe it’s not possible to write about a species that occasionally looks at people and sees dinner, and not scare folks. Or maybe it’s just not possible for me. I’m such a sucker for a high-impact story.