Your Safety in Mountain Lion Habitat

A large tawny cat with a long tail walks on a path bordered by grass and shrubs.

Generally, mountain lions are calm, quiet and elusive. They are most commonly found in areas with plentiful prey and adequate cover. Such conditions exist within Point Reyes National Seashore. Mountain lions are an important part of the park ecosystem, helping to keep deer and other prey populations in check. Although lion attacks are rare, they are possible, as is injury from any wild animal. Even so, the potential for being killed or injured by a mountain lion is quite low compared to many other natural hazards. There is a far greater risk, for example, of being killed in an automobile accident with a deer than of being attacked by a mountain lion.

We offer the following recommendations to increase your safety:

Do not hike alone. Hike in groups, with adults supervising children.

Keep children close to you. Keep children within your sight at all times.

If you see a mountain lion:

  • Stay calm. Hold your ground or back away slowly. Face the lion and stand upright.
  • Do not approach a lion. Never approach a mountain lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
  • Do not run from a lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If you have small children with you, pick them up, if possible, so they don't panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lion.
  • Do not crouch down or bend over. Biologists surmise mountain lions don't recognize standing humans as prey. On the other hand, a person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal. If you're in mountain lion habitat, avoid squatting, crouching, or bending over, even when picking up children.

If the mountain lion moves in your direction or acts aggressively:

  • Do all you can to appear intimidating.
    • Attempt to appear larger by raising your arms and opening your jacket if you are wearing one. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.
    • If looking bigger doesn't scare the mountain lion off, without crouching or turning your back, start throwing stones, branches, or whatever you can reach in its direction (e.g., toward it, but not directly at it). Aim for the ground in front of it; don't throw things directly at it just yet. Think of these as warning shots. You aren't wanting to hit and unnecessarily injure the mountain lion, but you do want to show it that you can defend yourself and potentially injure it. And that will hopefully deter it from approaching any closer.

      With that said, your safety is of the utmost importance and the National Park Service won't necessarily prosecute you for harassment of wildlife if something you throw at an aggressive mountain lion does make contact. Again, during the initial stages of a mountain lion encounter, the idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.

      One might ask: "How do I reach stones or branches without bending down?" If you are in a trailcut, you could get rocks to throw from the side of the trailcut. If you are in a wooded area, you might be able to find a loose branch within reach, or feel free to break branches off of trees or shrubs, if necessary. If you are with others, the shorter/smaller individuals could bend down close behind taller/bigger individuals (make it look as much as possible like you are all one big animal) and provide the taller/bigger individuals with rocks or sticks to throw. However, stones and branches may not always be readily within reach. But you will probably be carrying a backpack or fanny pack containing hard items that can be thrown, like water bottles, and you could retrieve those while remaining upright to use as projectiles. But don't throw everything you have, though. You might want to hold on to one metallic or hard plastic water bottle in reserve to use as a club or as weight in your backpack or fanny pack, which can be swung at the cat if it gets close enough. So, most hikers will have some options, even if they can't bend down to pick up rocks or sticks.

If the mountain lion continues to move in your direction:

  • Start throwing things AT it. Again, your safety is more important than the mountain lion's, so you should feel free to continue to escalate the level of hostility to intimidate and scare off the mountain lion. Initially during this stage, aim for its body as accurately as you can, but avoid aiming at its head. Aiming at its head could result in the cat being blinded in one eye, which could make it more dangerous to other hikers who later visit the park. Mountain lions are very dependent upon their sight—particularly depth perception—in order to successfully hunt their natural prey. Many of the relatively few attacks by mountain lions on humans in the USA are by individuals who are injured, stressed, and/or hungry. A hungry, stressed mountain lion with only one good eye, upon observing an abundance of slow, frequently inattentive* bipeds on park trails may attack one of us humans, hoping for an easy meal. (* Put your earbuds and smart phone away and enjoy the natural quiet while you hike.)

If the mountain lion attacks you:

  • Fight back! A hiker in Southern California used a rock to fend off a mountain lion that was attacking his son. Others have fought back successfully with sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools, and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. Also, if you have a backpack, try to position it to serve as body armor or a shield.

IMMEDIATELY REPORT ALL SIGHTINGS, ENCOUNTERS, OR ATTACKS
If you are involved in a face-to-face encounter with, or an attack by, a mountain lion, contact a ranger at one of the park's visitor centers as soon as possible or call 415-464-5170. The threat to public safety will be assessed and appropriate action will be taken.

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Last updated: August 16, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Phone:

415-464-5100
This number will initially be answered by an automated attendant, from which one can opt to access a name directory, listen to recorded information about the park (i.e., directions to the park; visitor center hours of operation; weather forecast; fire danger information; shuttle bus system status; wildlife updates; ranger-led programs; seasonal events; etc.), or speak with a ranger. Please note that if you are calling between 4:30 pm and 10 am, park staff may not be available to answer your call.

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