The latest mountain lion attack got me to thinking about how we humans hike, bike, and enter into cougar country and should know what to do in the event that we run into one. The newspaper article today tells about the two mountain bikers in Washington this past weekend that encountered a mountain lion. The article is flawed in that it says the men did all the right things.
But one of them ran. While the first guy was being bitten on the head from behind after the two men thought they had chased the mountain lion away, turned their backs on the animal and resumed their ride, the other man took off running. The mountain lion instinctively went for the running “prey” and focused on the second guy, allowing the bitten man to escape. The man who ran was mauled. The lion dragged him back to its den before help arrived.
The whole thing is a tragedy. But we’ve heard this before.
A woman jogging alone on a remote trail early in the morning being killed by a mountain lion.
Small children targeted when they ran ahead of their parents on a hiking trail. The parents scared off the cougar. One child was injured but survived.
A senior couple hiking, and a mountain lion attacking the man. The woman yelled and threw rocks at the animal and saved her husband.
Wild animals are out there. The key is to be loud so they know you are coming and will get out of your way. If they are cornered or have their young nearby, humans won’t win.
A few years back, while attending a camping trip in Mendocino County along the Pacific coast, my b.f. and I took a late afternoon hike when we were supposed to be helping with meal prep. It was my first time, so I can plead ignorance. The b.f. had signed us up for Saturday evening meal prep but simply didn’t want to work.
Yes, we got into trouble later. But that May afternoon, we strolled along a well-traveled trail, passing a few hikers and bikers. After an hour in, we turned around to come back so as not to miss out on the abalone dinner with our group. We were alone on that trail coming back, and it was getting darker in the forest by the sea but still light enough not to worry. As we walked along the trail at the base of a short cliff made of boulders, I heard a grunt overhead.
“What was that?” I said.
“Just a deer,” BF said.
It didn’t sound like any deer I’d ever met.
I realized we hadn’t seen any people for several minutes and asked him to pick up the pace. We did as he kept belting out one Percy Sledge song after another.
A few minutes later, a park ranger drove toward us in his state-issued Jeep. He stopped to ask us how we were enjoying the hike.
“Fine,” I said, “but do you have wild pigs here, because I heard a grunt a ways back?”
“No pigs,” the ranger said. “You heard a mountain lion.”
As my knees buckled out from under me, my b.f. acted cool. He’d already dived that morning for abalone and had felt vulnerable in the churning Pacific ocean with no air tank, holding his breath as he pried the sea creatures off their rock walls. The limit was three a day, but b.f.’s were mostly too small and had to be thrown back. The other guys got their limit. B.F. was not happy that he only got the one.
What was a mountain lion when he’d almost drowned that day?
The park ranger left, heading toward the rock cliff. I noticed the gun strapped to his belt.
The cougar didn’t attack us that evening. Maybe it was the singing, maybe because it didn’t feel threatened, or because its stomach was full. At any rate, that was my close encounter with a mountain lion, and hopefully the only one I will ever have.
I feel bad for the Washington mountain biker guy and his dead buddy. The newspaper article said there was something wrong with that mountain lion. I disagree. Those guys were in a remote part of the animal’s territory, and they disturbed it, angered it, and then one guy ran. It was probably a mama with her young somewhere nearby.
A hard lesson, but it’s a good warning for the rest of us. Put humans in the wild, and we are no match for a wild animal.