Friday, August 5, 2011

Wilderness Meets Urban

Burbank, California isn't where most people would expect to see a wild mountain lion roaming the city streets. But it does happen. In fact, just yesterday evening, residents were placed on alert by city officials because a cougar was spotted wandering around town.

Mountain lions are among the most dangerous predators in the wild, because unlike bears that will respond with an attack when surprised or cornered by humans, a cougar will actually stalk a person until an opportunity arises for a planned attack.

A friend of mine was stalked for 7 miles by a cougar that stayed about 100 yards behind him all the way from the campground until he reached his truck. He kept a wary eye on the lion all the way back to his truck and told me later that he knew that if he ignored the cougar, it would sneak in close and jump him.
I have no doubt of that. It is the pattern for these animals. California statistics kept between 1986 to 1995 listed 9 verified attacks, about one per year in that state alone. Three attacks took place in 1994 alone. The modus operandi for attack is for the cougar to lie in wait, hidden from sight until the victim is close enough. Then the animal leaps on the back of the victim and bites through the back of the neck, severing the spinal column.

An example — On April 23, 1994, Barbara Schoener was killed by a cougar. Since she was alone, there were no eye-witnesses. But the supposition is that she was jogging along a trail and attacked by a cougar that was lying in wait on a ledge above the trail. She was apparently knocked to the ground and evidence is that she fought the animal with bare hands until she was killed. Her body was dragged off the trail and most of it was eaten by the cougar.

To avoid a cougar attack:
  • Travel in groups. Cougars are not known to attack groups, preferring to take down solitary individuals. 
  • Don't take your pet dog with you into the wilderness. Dogs attract mountain lions, so having one on a leash is like trolling bait through shark-infested waters.
If you are confronted by a cougar:
  • Stop. Do not run! Running will trigger an attack.
  • Make yourself look bigger by standing tall and holding your jacket above your head. 
  • If you have small children with you, put them on your shoulders. That will help make you look larger and also make the kids look less like a convenient meal. 
  • If you're alone, attract others to your location, because the cougar likely will not attack when confronted by a group. Yell "cougar" not just "help" to let others know what the situation is. 
  • Prepare to defend yourself. Pick up a weapon — rock or stick that can be used as a club. If you have a knife, take it out and prepare to use it. On August 16th, 1994, Robin Winslow used a 12-inch kitchen bread knife to help fight off a cougar that was attacking her friend Kathleen Strehl. During the battle, the cat bit off Troy Winslow's (Robin's husband) thumb, when he grabbed the mountain lion near its mouth. Life can get ragged when you're fighting for your life against a mountain lion. 
Cougars are increasingly coming into urban areas in search of food and water. This often takes place after dark, making raids on food and water dishes left outside for pets. With this most recent sighting in Burbank, city officials again reminded residents to take pet food and water dishes inside at night. And with the cougars boldly prowling neighborhoods, it would also be a good idea to bring the pets indoors after dark. 


  1. Just another reason to pack a gun.

  2. Dogs do not attract mountain lions. Cougars are, for the most part, afraid of larger dogs, which to them are wolves. They might occasionally attack a lone dog, but they generally steer clear. Ask any trapper. You are safest in the wilderness when you have your dog with you, provided it is responsive to your commands and isn't a small dog.