How do you survive an attack by a mountain lion?
March 18, 2012 8:49 AM   Subscribe

How do you survive an attack by a mountain lion?

Please imagine the following scenario. You are walking along in some kind of outdoors setting, minding your own business. The air smells good and there is warm sunshine and everything is good in the world. Oh look, a bird. Marvellous. Suddenly, you are attacked by a mountain lion, cougar, wolf, or some other scary small to medium sized four legged creature.

Besides aggressively contemplating the decisions you have made in your life that have allowed this situation to happen, what can you do? Please note, this question is not about avoidance. The mountain lion is attacking you. I am already good at running away from things.

Specifically I would like to know:

1) What strategy does the mountain lion pursue? Does it go for the neck? Does it latch on to you with its jaws and pull, like how a dog bites? What posture should you assume in response?

2) Say the mountain lion is clamped on to your arm. How could you go about dislodging it? What about your leg?

3) If you had a rock or a stick, what do you do with it?

Obviously there is an element of silliness here and an attack is very unlikely to happen, but please give (or point me to) real, actionable, proven advice in case it does. I legitimately want to know. I want to live.
posted by tracert to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Here's what Google says.. By the way, if you're in the Bay Area (Marin, especially, from what I hear) and frequently run/walk on trails, this is not a theoretical possibility.
posted by downing street memo at 8:59 AM on March 18, 2012

Best answer: You quite likely wouldn't know a mountain lion was interested in you until it was actually attacking you, since they stalk their prey. A mountain lion is hoping for as little conflict as possible, so it's going to sneak up on you, and try to crush your neck with its first bite. As far as how easy it is to fight off, I've heard a ranger say "try catching a running chainsaw." However, unlike a bear conflict, you'll definitely want to fight and make yourself to much of a problem for the mountain lion to deal with. If you notice the mountain lion before it makes its move, you'll want to confront it and try to scare it off by making yourself look bigger, making a lot of noise, and generally presenting yourself as a not particularly easy target - YOU DO NOT WANT TO RUN. Using a rock or stick to throw at the lion would probably help. Basically, try to scare it off, and if that doesn't work, do whatever you can to beat the hell out of it.

And, like downing street memo says, the threat is unlikely, but quite real.
posted by LionIndex at 9:05 AM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Everything I've read (I hike in mountain lion areas, and while attacks are extremely rare I do want to be prepared just in case) says you want to stay on your feet, protect your head and neck, and fight back focusing blows on the eyes and head of the lion. Once it has you down on the ground you are "small prey" and are at a significant disadvantage.

1. My understanding is that mountain lions will typically go for the head and neck. I presume that, like housecats, once they get you down on the ground they'll clamp down and try to eviscerate you with that relentless back claw kicking thing that cats do.
2. If it's clamped on your arm or leg use whatever you can to attack its eyes and face relentlessly. Fists, finger gouges, whatever. If you are able to gain leverage and flip the lion over or throw it off of you, do that.
3. If you have a rock or a stick, use it to land as many direct blows on its eyes & head as you can.
posted by Balonious Assault at 9:09 AM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For mountain lions, everything I've read advises not to bend down to pick up a rock or stick. Bending down makes you smaller (more like prey).
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:22 AM on March 18, 2012

This woman was attacked by a mountain lion while biking with a friend in a remote canyon. The pictured man was killed and partially consumed by the same animal.

The television show I Survived chronicled this woman's story a couple of years back. I actually just watched this on Bio TV last week (guilty pleasure, don't judge me) actually. The lion pulled the woman's face partially from her skull, punctured her skull with it's teeth, and almost cut off her air supply by clamping its jaws over her neck. She survived because the friend she was cycling with held onto her legs while the attack was happening and refused to let go as the lion tried to pull the woman into a nearby ravine. A group of passing cyclists saw the attack, used their cell phones to call for help, and hurled stones at the lion to scare it away, which eventually worked.

It's not a silly scenario at all.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:23 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pepper spray, the nastiest stuff you can get your hands on. They can't attack you if they can't see you.

Eyes. Jam anything into its eyes -- fingers, keys, anything. Jam your fingers directly into its eyes, as deep as you can.

They're making a big comeback, mountain lions are. They're often seen here in Austin, mostly northwest Austin but if they are there they can be anywhere around town. I've never seen one but I'd love to, as long as I was locked inside my pickup and had a machine gun in my hands.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:30 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All big cats want to use surprise, and they want you on the ground with their jaws round your neck. If you bleed out or tire while this is happening, so be it.

So, not that you can do much about it unless you see the lion first, you don't want to be attacked from behind or from the side. As an action, this means keeping alert. It also means not turning your back.

If you are attacked, whatever else happens you do not want to go to ground. Here lies trouble. This is easier said than done, but bears repeating.

I've been two meters away from a group of lions attacking a buck of some sort and I can report that it was dead and disembowelled in a matter of seconds. If you get attacked, and this is going to sound obvious, you want it to stop as soon as possible because even a short attack will cause a fair number of injuries. Noise and dominance are your friends. You are an unfamiliar animal from the pov of prey. Lash, shout, jump and stomp and hope to f**k the thing decides better of attacking you further.

On dominance. Think about what it means: threatening sounds, posture, increased size, eye contact*. You want enough distance that the animal can walk away. You do not want to be stepping back, running or doing anything else that triggers a chase or attack response.

*Eye contact with big cats is not recommended generally. It translates directly in bigcatese as "threat" - I am assuming here the animal already sees you as lunch, rather than just sees you.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:41 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I meant, picking up a rock or stick would be great, but bending down to do it isn't advisable.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:43 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are some good (and bad) ideas to be had from the List of Mountain Lion Attacks in California. I also recall one case in WA where a mountain biker fought a lion off with his bike, keeping it between him and the lion and striking the lion with it.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:52 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's the National Park Service's advice. My favourite bit: "Never run from a mountain lion! No one can outrun a mountain lion."
posted by caek at 9:56 AM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

My fiance, as well as her family, came very close to this once. Fiance was about 5, sister 7. They were hiking in the mountains, came upon a stream that had a (very, very) fresh kill stored in the middle of it. (Cougars do this to keep their kill away from other predators). I couldn't imagine having two young kids and suddenly discovering there was a mountain lion not 20 yards in your vicinity.

That being said, they were always given advice to fight back, fight dirty, fight loudly. Apparently cougars hate noise, they hate big things, they don't like being fought against. If you're suddenly attacked, scream loudly, fiercely, and start wailing on it. Hopefully it will freak out enough and let go, and then stand, wave your hands in the air, and scream some more.

In the list of mountain lion attacks that qxntpqbbqxl linked to, there's a good amount of "They threw rocks at it and yelled then it ran away".
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2012

Best answer: Well, fighting off predators is pretty much the reason weapons exist. Shooting a threatening lion will pretty much settle the matter. I do realize carrying a gun and being willing and able to use it effectively under stress is not for everyone-so my advice:

Always, Always be aware of your surroundings. Keep your head up and looking all around you. Be aware of noises and things like what the birds around are doing. Predators attack the easy kill-easy kills are surprised and taken at unawares. Don't be unaware.

If you do spot a lion stalking you (possible but not easy) take an aggressive stance toward it, suppres your fear and convince yourself you are about to fuck that animal up when it attacks. This attitude will help scare it off. A weapon of some kind makes this a whole lot easier. A rock beats hands, a walking stick beats rock, knife is even better and gun beats them all. Also being familiar with the weapon is required.

If a lion attacks it is looking for food. They are cowards (just like a housecat) at heart and don't like confrontation with an animal roughly the same size they are. You must beat them off, protect your neck and gut as much as you can but attack it fiercely.

A good friend was elk hunting last year, when about stalking up on a elk he heard a rustle behind him, turned and shoot a juvenile lion getting ready to jump on his back from about 10 feet away with his bow. After he shot the lion another about 20 yards back and to the side broke cover and ran away. It appears they were working in pairs. He now carries a glock with him when bowhunting. BTW the game marshals said if you shoot a lion at 10' with a bow (or with a bow at all) it is self defense pretty much guaranteed and he didn't get in trouble for it.

Lions are not likely to attack an adult, aware, fit human. But sometimes they do. BTW the advice will not work well for bears, and dogs attack in packs. realizing you are surrounded by a feral dog/coyote pack is a very chilling experience. A few thrown rocks and yelling solved that (and they were probably just curious about the teenager out in the desert) but still...a gun would have been welcome.
posted by bartonlong at 10:27 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Famous taxidermist Karl Akeley actually choked a leopard to death.

“Kneeling on the leopard’s stomach and holding the forelegs apart with his elbows, the gasping taxidermist loosened his grip on the animal’s throat for a short breathing-spell. Almost immediately, he marked a flash of new light in the glaring golden eyes, and the battle went on as before, man against beast, brain and muscle against brute force.” Thus did C. E. Akeley, an unarmed taxidermist on a zoological expedition to British Somaliland in 1898, beat the stuffing out of a ferocious African leopard. Akerley had been bitten and clawed to shreds before he finally succeeded in throttling the enraged carnivore. “The big cat’s body grew limp, and for the first time in history one of great jungle felines succumbed in fair fight to a weaponless man.” Akerley was photographed, his arms in bandages, standing alongside the strangled leopard; he eyes his former adversary with deep suspicion, as if the animal might yet return to life, and bite his head off. Akerley’s historic bout with the Somali leopard is just one of many similar accounts of male bravado that appeared in the pages of The Wide World, a magazine of true adventures for men, which flourished between 1898 and 1965.

In my reading about him, it seems that the cat did clamp down on his arm because he shielded himself with it (it went for the neck first). He had to ease it out sideways, inch by inch, like a corncob.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:48 AM on March 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The scariest thing that ever happened to me was when a wild boar stormed our tent, tearing through the screened opening. The ex and I were fast asleep during a camping trip on Catalina Island, which lies about 26 miles off of Long Beach, CA. We had taken precautions and had no food in our tent so we could only speculate about his motivation. There was a bright moon, thank goodness, or it would have been worse. We were kicking and punching him as hard as we could, aiming for his belly and testicles or really anywhere we could land a blow.

However, our feet were ineffective and we were very vulnerable because both of us were stuck in our sleeping bags and lying on our backs. It was also impossible to shove him towards the ten opening. Neither of us went for his eyes or neck because we could see his tusks and wanted to stay away from them. I remember smelling his breath and trying to shove/hit his head away from my face, but that was the closest I came to following the standard directions for what to do in a wild animal attack. I have never hit anything as hard as this one particular punch I remember landing on his ribcage. My knuckles were bruised for weeks.

We were both screaming at him too-- there were no humans around to hear us. The ex made it to his feet and grabbed two fistfulls of skin/fur at the boar's shoulders, trying to propel him towards the tent opening. That gave me a moment to get upright too, and so in a few seconds we went from seeming very vulnerable to looming. The boar left as abruptly as he arrived. His hooves were sharp enough to rip our sleeping bags and we were both very scratched up. We broke our plans to camp out a second night.

In the years since, the Catalina Conservancy and other groups have worked hard to eradicate the wild boars from the island and claim success. It does not take many generations for a feral pig to revert to its wild past, e.g., to regrow tusks, etc. I watched a few episodes of a TV show about people who hunt feral hogs but it left me with an ambiant anxiety I prefer to avoid.
posted by carmicha at 10:49 AM on March 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Colorado Division of Wildlife Living In Lion Country pdf
posted by faineant at 11:15 AM on March 18, 2012

Not that I fancy trying my hand at strangling a leopard or any other large cat, but it appears that at least one man, not including Tarzan, has managed this feat. Miss T.Horn was referring to real incident, at least according to pages 99-101 of Jay Kirk's biography of Carl Akeley, Kingdom Under Glass (Henry Holt, 2010).
posted by woodman at 2:44 PM on March 18, 2012

Best answer: Famous taxidermist Karl Akeley actually choked a leopard to death.

Holy fucking shit!

Anyway, lions seem to be getting covered pretty well. As for wolves, my feeling after being pointedly interested in them my whole life is that if you're alone, unarmed, and under attack by a pack of wolves, then you're pretty much dead. They will have flanked you and sent someone in to distract you. If you've got one wolf on your arm, there are two more jumping on your back.

That said, under most circumstances a wolf attack is a remote possibility. If you're not in the dead of the Alaskan winter, they'll be relatively well fed and not desperate enough to come after a human. Also, they're not going to be overly concerned about whether you see them coming, so you'd probably have plenty of time to make a lot of noise, unless you're in thick woods or the dark. That said, if they're already desperate enough for whatever reason, they won't care if you're making noise and you're fucked.

If it's just one that's rabid or an outcast or something, I'd treat it like a big dog attack. Jam your fist down its throat when it lunges, or failing that, press your arm into its mouth so you control the head and its jaws have the least mechanical avantage. proceed to choke/gouge/beat it until it's fleeing or dead. Personally, I'd probably latch onto it and choke it.
posted by cmoj at 3:20 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I once visited an animal preserve/zoo in Colorado that featured a large fenced off section for a pride of mountain lions. There was a nice walking path that went by the fenced area for people to watch the lions do what they do. The lions had a really large area to themselves, full of bushes and other cover, so it was pretty close to their normal habitat. It was also impossible to see the full extent of the area.

Walking by, I didn't see any mountain lions. I assumed they must have been locked away for the day, so I kept meandering towards the next section. As I was walking, I heard a bush rustle right behind me, and then suddenly a mountain lion came bursting out of the bushes and ran straight for the fence. I saw it out of the corner of my eye and jumped, but had the fence not been between us, I would have been overtaken before I could have really reacted.

I knew that mountain lions were in the preserve right next to me. I knew they were there! And yet one of them still stalked me without me realizing. Had it been in the wild, I would have been attacked. There was no way I could have reached for pepper spray or a gun or anything else.

By the way, that mountain lion apparently had a reputation for doing that to the tourists. It would hide and then freak people out as they walked by.
posted by fremen at 7:42 PM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

2) Say the mountain lion is clamped on to your arm. How could you go about dislodging it? What about your leg?

I doubt you would have the presence of mind to do this during a mountain lion attack, but when a house cat bites you, the trick to dislodging is to push in toward the back of the jaw. Pulling only makes them bite harder, but pushing startles the cat and causes the jaw to relax, allowing you to get free. Good luck overriding your instincts to pull away when bitten, though...
posted by wondercow at 7:56 PM on March 18, 2012

Best answer: Suddenly, you are attacked by a mountain lion, cougar, wolf, or some other scary small to medium sized four legged creature.

Disclaimer: I am not a wolf expert and have never been attacked by a wolf. That said, I have always been fascinated by these beautiful creatures, and living in Minnesota most of my life, have been lucky enough to have had a number of safely distant encounters with timberwolves and gray wolves in the wild and in captivity. I can also say that in Boy Scouts we were given some basic information on what to do in an encounter with a wild wolf or coyote, but honestly I can't say for sure how good that information was or what it was actually based on. If an expert would like to amend or correct my advice, I would respectfully defer.

Regarding wolves, they rarely attack healthy adult humans. If you encounter a starved wolf in the wild, it may try to nip at your feet, calves, and ankles in an attempt to hamstring you, but it probably won't try to "pounce" on you or knock you down by attacking your head the way a cougar would. Don't let it bite your legs or slow you down. Stand your ground and stay in the open. Don't go for cover in the woods, as there is likely a pack hiding nearby. When it comes in for a nip, kick it as hard as you can in the snout and head. It may be willing to take quite a few of these, since it's probably used to getting bucked in the face by hooves. Just keep it up. Keep walking occasionally, but don't run, you won't be able to outrun it. You may actually get the impression that the attacking wolf is trying to play, but under no circumstances should you let it get a good bite. Wolves have incredibly strong bite force, and they often take prey by attaching themselves to a hind leg and not letting go.
All of the above can also be applied more generally to coyotes, wild dogs, and other wild canids. Domestic dog attacks don't seem to resemble wild wolf/dog attacks, and if the animal is a rabies carrier, all bets are off.
Check out this post of a coyote meeting a Canadian guy in the wilderness for a good up-close look at this type of encounter.
posted by Demogorgon at 11:43 AM on March 19, 2012

Oh, meant to finish that by saying eventually the beast will see that you are probably not worth the effort and withdraw its attack. If you can get to shelter sooner, all the better.
posted by Demogorgon at 11:47 AM on March 19, 2012

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