No, it’s not the attractive older woman prowling around your local bar. I don’t know how to help you with her.
But I am a physician with a degree in advanced wilderness medicine, and I’ve broken down an important Wilderness Medicine Society study that may be the only evidence-based paper of its size to provide real information about mountain lion attacks in North America…and how to stop them.
The study’s here; there’s a transcript below if you (like me) prefer to read rather than watch videos. If you want to know how to save other people–and yourself–from deadly encounters, this is pretty much THE most-know information.
I know I’m not going hiking without major mace ever again, I can tell you that.
I provide this kind of information because I want to find the few and the faithful who want to do more than common good–the ones crazy enough to imagine becoming real life superheroes. Not keyboard warriors. Not activists. Not a Twitter mob. And not just nice people. But people who take real action, put themselves on the line, drop the ego, and roll up sleeves to save lives.
If you’re ready to break the mold – to actually start saving people – join the five day free superhero mindset training here. I don’t believe in coincidence: you’re here for a reason. So don’t let this moment slip away and miss the chance to get your head in the game. “What if” isn’t a fun regret to have.
“📍 Do you know how to survive or avoid a cougar attack? The Wilderness Medicine Society of which I’m a member, did a study of 74 Cougar attacks from 1924 to 2018, including all of the states where cougar attacks are known to occur, which is 16. That’s where cougars are known to live. So they checked all verified cougar attacks recorded in state history, and checked variables such as the human victim, the cougar and conditions surrounding the attack, and then they analyzed them. Most of the time, people less than 18 years of age were actually heavily represented among the victims, which means cougars were more likely to target children or young people, young, tasty people. 48% of the victims were less than 18 years old, and 35% were less than 10 years old.
Attacks were more common in the summer and fall months. And most attacks occurred during daylight hours. The head, neck, and chest were the most common sites of anatomic injury, which makes sense: trying to go for the soft area of the throat. 46% of the victims were hospitalized after being attacked among the 35 victims that had anatomical site data available.
So 11 attacks were fatal among the 71 reports , but none of the hospitalized victims died. It was very difficult to tell what victim variables were predictive of death. All age groups are, however, at risk of attack and death when development and recreational activities put people in closer context with cougars. People have described cougar attacks as increasing because of this.
They’re known to populate the Western United States in addition to a small population in Florida– and all of this information is coming from the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Journal article in September 1st, 2019 by Yo-Yo Wang Thomas Wiser, and Joseph Forrester.
There are some physicians and researchers who spent some time digging through results to figure out why people get attacked by cougars. So states that they used– that where they were able to get data from– were 16 states where they’re known to live. They’re able to get data from Colorado, Washington, California, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming.
I never know how to pronounce Oregon, even though I think that’s correct. And this is all the way back, going back from 19 24. And according to the data they have, it really does seem to be increasing. But there’s a big data gap between 1935 and 1968 where there’s like no reported mountain lion attacks.
And I find it highly unlikely that between 1933 and 1966 Mountain Lions were like, “you what? People aren’t right now,” and then it became fashionable later. So there could be a reporting gap there. But when you look at the graph, it goes like this, and then there’s this spike from 1990 through 2018 with a huge spike in 2008, and I think they’re gonna address whether or not there were droughts that make Cougars more likely to try to get you. Out of this there were some residential attacks where the cougars came to houses. Not very many. This was about nine out of the 55 were residential attacks.
Activity at the time of attack, usually hiking. Hiking was the biggest amount. Some people were just doing things around the campfire, or home.
Hunting was then the next– eight out of the ones where they knew what people were doing at that time, and then jogging and then playing by water, walking with a domestic animal, mountain biking, working.
Snowshoeing was one. One. Poor person. About half of the folks that they were able to actually identify were alone at the time of the attack. Makes sense. You want to, if you’re hungry, you wanna go for something that is by itself and probably not going to fight back. And we already mentioned the sites generally where people were attacked.
So 57% of the cougars that they could identify were male cougars , and the cougar age was about two, but we had a standard deviation of one year, so it’s, and they only had like six where they kind of guessed the age. In 57% of cases there was a cougar fatality because somebody had a weapon or something like that afterwards.
Obviously we prefer huge data samples.
It’s difficult with cougar attacks to verify those things because since we know they target people who are alone, I mean, theoretically you could have somebody who is alone– you could have a number of people who are alone– die, and nothing is ever reported or found. There are plenty of disappearances in the woods and the forest every single year, so just very difficult to quantify those things. But of what we can quantify, there’s a pretty steep peak between June and October, so it kind of goes up in June with a peak with the highest in August and September, coming back down in October and then dropping way down in November, December, January, February, or not as much March, April, May.
it could be that that’s because that’s when people are out in the woods doing “woods things,” right. They have some and significant pictures of children with puncture wounds from having been attacked or adult male with the skin and flesh all eaten off… Cougars are not a joke. So in the 19 00s, they were an endangered species to the verge of extinction owing to over hunting. And so there has been conservation efforts to increase the cougar population. So you would expect some more interactions there. Higher cougar populations do have some negative effects in general on prey, obviously, or on livestock. So it’s really a balance when it comes to predators, and over hunting versus under hunting of predators.
So fragmented cougar habitat is particularly important. A fragmented animal habitat means that a cougar used to travel along this whole big area, and now there’s a house in the middle. And so in order for it to get from here to here, it would go through that area. Fragmented habitat loss is important because general habitat loss, okay, you’re losing habitat, but if it’s fragmented, you’re more likely to have interactions between people, livestock, and wild animals because you’ve interrupted their travel patterns.
So the significance of cougars being roughly about two, maybe three years old, one to three years old during these attacks: these are probably young cougars that don’t have established hunting and feeding practices and they’re, you know, the lower on the cougar totem pole. Cougars don’t have a huge social network– at least that I am aware of or have been taught about– but like with any cats, the biggest, baddest guy, he gets the best territory.
So then everyone else, they’ve gotta move back out of that territory and that pushes them to these marginal areas; they’re forced to get the not as prey– like children. So interesting because when we’re talking about the attack periods, most attacks occurred during months and times of peak human activity rather than peak cougar activity. ‘Cause cougars are actually more likely to be awake at night. So these are hungry cougars, but there was a lot of human activity. And they may be at tax of convenience more than specific targeting of humans as prey. So they may see a human, they happen to, you know, be waking up and like, “oh, oh neat, let me, I, I’m hungry, I could eat.”
Cougars are ambush hunters that stalk, pounce, and sneak attack their prey. And so there’s a pretty consistent injury pattern when they try to kill through tracheal injury, cervical spine injury or hemorrhage, and that’s the pattern of injury. You also see in human victims, there’s a consistent injury pattern observed among fatal cases with degloving of the face and neck, which is where the skin is removed from those areas. Thoracic inlet injury and loss of visceral structures, meaning your organs are gone, are common findings. So, that injury pattern does demonstrate that it’s, these attacks are predatory, not defensive. It’s not like the cougar is scared and thinks that a person is there and therefore attacks. There are some animals that you’ll experience that– I know there’s certain bear populations, in which that’s kind of the attack pattern or injury pattern that you see– but with it’s more like, oh, this is convenient food, and this was a predatory attack. Supporting this hypothesis is the near equal distribution of male and female cougars and the juvenile age distribution of the offending cougars. So children and young adults may just be perceived as easier to prey with less energy expenditure. So it unsupervised children that were likely to be victims and attacked: only 23% of people who are participating in outdoor recreation activities are age 17 or younger, but 49% of these attack victims were in that demographic. So there’s definitely a preference. It’s not like 49% of people out in the woods are children because they’re not. Although there were a large number of children and adolescents attacked, they didn’t have a large enough power to be able to say a statistically significant association between age being alone and fatality. They had to, you know, we are just going by the numbers, right? Half of these people were children, but we don’t have a big enough power study to be able to say exactly with, you know, mathematical and scientific certainty that that’s what’s going on.
It’s just what’s likely going on, which is consistent with reports from Canada.
So there’s health messaging on cougar attack prevention currently.
Try to minimize time spent hiking alone.
Make noise to prevent surprising something– that’s like what we’d say about bears, too– avoid fresh kill sites. Always have an adult accompany young adults and children and don’t travel in the back country with dogs or other animals. That’s because there are folks that think a dog or another animal might trigger a cougar attack. From these numbers, though, there ISN’T a lot of good epidemiological data to support that information actually. According to actual data, like three out of the 57 that they were able to get data from were walking with a domestic animal– it doesn’t seem like that significant, like the big thing. So some of that stuff might not be true. They’re just kind of common sense ideas to prevent encounter.
In the event of attack, you’re not supposed to flee: you’re supposed to back away slowly. Not lose eye contact, make yourself large and threatening. Protect the head and neck, use pepper spray and fighting back. These have been things that people have suggested, but with the exception of protecting the head and the neck, there isn’t a lot of good data to support these things. They’re common sense based on subjective accounts.
There are a couple stories. There’s one I think that’s published in this research study where there were two people. One of them successfully scared the cougar to back off. But then the other one took off on a bike. And the cougar chased that person because they looked like they were running away.
And then the other person– the second person also ended up getting killed? There’s stuff like that that make it very clear that there’s behavioral patterns where threatening the animal– certainly not running away or showing your back– might be better ideas.
So everyone, not just children are at risk for cougar attacks. Our outdoor participants should be aware during daylight hours because that’s when we are most awake and that’s when most cougar attacks actually occur: again, during our primary active hours, not their primary active hours.
Obviously there’s some limitation to the studies.
Not all fish and wildlife departments they queried participated in the studies and some states like Arizona, Florida, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Texas just didn’t have data. Or weren’t able to provide data anyway. Of course there’s gonna be underreporting of minor encounters or near attacks, and like I said, you’re gonna miss out on certain fatal attacks.
And this is partly because cougar encounter reporting is not mandatory for most encounters. Only in the event that the Cougar is killed is it required that people have to report the case. And obviously that’s not always gonna be the case. So that’s why in more than half of these reported cases, as I read, there was a cougar fatality because that’s, you know, bias, that’s part of the reporting.
So possible that the (attack) increase is predominantly due to reporting, but looking at the context of previous studies, these researchers believe there is actually a true increase in cougar attacks, also in fatal attacks without eyewitnesses, people had to guess things and try to figure things out from investigators.
So there’s a lot of information that’s obviously missing, but in general, what can we know from this information? Don’t run away, don’t show your neck and back. Try to fight back if you can. They talk about how establishing validated public health messaging is critical to minimize injurious encounters, protect your head and neck. That’s where the evidence is. Protect your head and neck. Because they want to take the skin off of your face and your neck and you look better with skin on your face. Pay attention to where you’re going. Be scary looking. Don’t be a child. Don’t leave children alone because they are stalk-able. From their data , is (no) hiking alone. Try to pay attention to conservation efforts in your area and be, you know, be cognizant supportive of conservation. Because the more habitat loss, the more likely we are to run into these scary creatures, which is preferable to not do, like conservation efforts helps to protect and save us also… Don’t live where cougars are.
And presumably you could bring the same kind of pepper spray into the back country that you would use for bears, and that presumably could also be helpful. Because again, it’s likely that these are cougars looking for easy prey, so don’t be easy prey. Fight like hell, ’cause you’re, you’re fucked otherwise.
So support conservation because it’s not good for either the cougars or you if you meet too often. There you go.”
Jen Finelli is a world-traveling scifi author who’s gone swimming with sharks, escaped being locked in a German nunnery, discovered murals and poetry in underground urban caves, explored jungles and coral deserts, and hung out with everyone from dead people and prostitutes to secret political influencers and Senators. She is coping with life as an MD by telling you stories, and when she grows up she’ll be a superhero. You can help her out at patreon.com/becominghero, and learn about the author-killing comic book character who started the whole thing at becominghero.ninja.
***Mental health: If you need help, get help. I have suffered with severe mental illness for years and I know it sucks. If you have trouble finding a therapist, please visit betterhelp.com/doctorjen for an online option. I affiliated with them to get you a special link for 10 percent off teletherapy. IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD ONLINE THERAPY, check your options with your local health department or openpathcollective.org. Also:
— Phone number for suicide helpline US: 1-800-273-8255
— Crisis text line: Text HOME to 741741 in US; Text 686868 in Canada
— Victor Frankl’s logotherapy book helped me find meaning in my depression (order from somewhere other than Amazon if you can, but if you can’t, use this affiliate link to support my work)
— This DBT Workbook by Matthew McKay helped me survive strong suicidal emotions
I am a real physician (publicly searchable Virginia license at 0101265916), but unfortunately, I can’t give you any official medical advice online since we’ve never had an individualized appointment. Instead, I really hope these more general resources help; they are evidence-based and they have helped me. If they don’t help, go find some that do.
Your life matters.