Question Answered by Gregg Losinski, Regional Conservation Educator, Idaho Fish and Game
Cougar video link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNO2CUGPSl8
Great question about the big cats that we call mountain lions. Other names include cougar, panther, puma, catamount, jaguar, and even painter. The bottom line, no matter what we call it, it is still a cat. Cats are like people in that they can have distinct personalities although there are a few general behaviors that they typically exhibit.
Lions are faster and stronger than humans, but they do not consider humans as prey. Given the overlap in human and mountain lion populations, the cases of attacks on humans is fairly rare. In the entire western portion of the United States and Canada, there are only about one human fatality every seven or eight years from mountain lions. Attacks on human do occasionally occur, but even those can be explained if you consider the circumstances.
In the case of the lions in the videos, the animals appear to be younger and are doing what all cats are good at, being curious. Even though lions have great speed and power, like all animals, they try and conserve energy, choosing to ambush prey rather than run it down. When lions attack humans, it is generally because the humans are moving at a rate that the lion mistakes for a four-legged animal such as a deer or elk. A mountain runner or biker moves along the path and the lion reflexively launches at it prey from a perch in a tree or rock outcropping. Because the lion is perfectly programmed to take a four-legged critter, things don’t line up well with a human and the big cat generally misses it mark. When the lion discovers its misidentification, it usually runs off, just a big scaredy cat.
Records show that a majority of the victims killed by lions are small children that are stragglers in a group. The cat, while waiting, watches the group go by and then plucks the littlest straggler. Not mean or vicious, IT’S just a way of getting protein without expending any energy. It’s always about the energy.
If you encounter a mountain lion you need to remember to never run; you don’t want to trigger that cat and mouse response. Try to make yourself look as large as possible. Hold your coat over your head, scream and shout. Keep whatever you have, like a mountain bike or backpack, between you and the cat. Lions are just one more reason to carry bear spray; it works on anything that has mucous membranes, just as long as you spray it in the face. The most important thing is to consider an encounter with a mountain lion more as a treat, than a threat. Some people spend their whole lives kicking around the woods and never get to directly see a mountain lion.
To learn more about mountain lions visit: www.cougarfund.org
Field of Vision
For a predator, such as a mountain lion, the better an animal can see the more likely it is to find prey that does not want to be seen.
One important visual characteristic is the “field of vision,” which is defined as the amount of space, in all directions, an animal can see.
Let’s calculate your field of vision.
Materials: pencil, large sheet of paper (about three feet in diameter), protractor, a friend
- Draw a circle on the paper. The circle needs to be large enough for you to stand inside. Mark the center of the circle.
- Use the protractor to mark off every five degrees on the circle.
- Stand on the center mark facing the 0 degree mark.
- Focus on an object straight in front of you, and do not move your eyes.
- Have your friend stand in front of you and move slowly clockwise around the circle. Tell your friend to stop when you can no longer see him or her. Place a mark where your friend stops.
- Repeat steps 3 through 7, but have your friend move counter-clockwise.
- Determine your total field of vision by counting the number of degrees between the two marks.
A mountain lion has an average field of vision of 287˚.