Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking.
Two of our greatest pleasures that my wife and I enjoy now that we are fulltiming is hiking and camping (boondocking) in the national forests and deserts. We seldom see other RVers or hikers. We’re used to bears, but are apprehensive about meeting a mountain lion when so isolated. Are we being unusually fearful? —Harry and Jocelyn
Hi Harry and Jocelyn,
Though mountain lion attacks on people have increased dramatically since 1986, most of these attacks occurred in California, Colorado, and Canada. So if wherever you happen to be hiking doesn’t start with a “C” you can breathe easier. Mountain lions, also known as cougars, catamounts and panthers, have in recent years changed their habits due to reduced hunting in most states and development encroaching on their habitat; and plump suburban cats and dogs are becoming fast food for mountain lions, though they are rarely seen in the wild (80% of mountain lion sightings are actually something else).
When hiking in mountain lion country, hike (bike or run) with another person or in a group. Most attacks have been to solo hikers or runners. If you sight a cougar and it does not run away, take aggressive action:
1) Make yourself appear as large and threatening as possible: If you are with a small child, put him/her on your shoulders. Hold your backpack over your head, raise your arms and wave.
2) Scream threateningly at the animal (most of its prey will run, so your actions will confuse it), throw rocks (don’t stay bent over too long to pick up rocks, as you will appear small and an easier target).
3) If attacked, fight back aggressively.
4) After you chase it away, write an article for an RV magazine and make big bucks.
Now, to reality facts: You are 10 times more likely to be killed by a dog than a mountain lion, and 2,000 times more likely to be killed by a car. It is natural to be afraid of something that we know little about — like mountain lions — which could even discourage us from hiking. If this were a rational decision, then we would long ago have avoided pet dogs, and we certainly wouldn’t ride in a motor vehicle.
Consider these facts:
- 100 human deaths occur in auto collisions annually with deer.
- 86 deaths from lightning strikes.
- 40 deaths from bee stings.
- 18-20 people killed by dogs (plus bites on 200,000 people).
- 12 deaths from rattlesnake bites.
- 3 deaths from black widow spider bites.
- 25 fatal mountain lion attacks from 1890 to 2017 (that’s 127 years, or about 1 every 5 years, and the last one was 9 years ago).
Basic Wildlife Observation Safety
Though not usually life-threatening, most wildlife in order to survive has discovered how to defend itself. No wildlife should be approached close enough that they change their behavior to concentrate on you. Just because wildlife allows you to approach closer in National Parks, where they are safe from hunters, they are still wild. And no wildlife should be fed, cut off from escape routes, or separated from their babies. They can fight, stomp, claw, bite – which can lead to serious infections – stick you with needles (porcupine) or coat you with an obnoxious spray (skunk).
Stay safe. Observe wildlife from a safe distance. And enjoy your hike.
Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .