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Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Mountain Lion Attack

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An unfortunate man was attacked recently by a female mountain lion at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California. Mountain lions occasionally prey on humans, usually in a stealth attack. The following information is condensed from the chapter on wild animal attacks by Dr. Luanne Freer in the forthcoming textbook Wilderness Medicine:

North American mountain lions (also known as cougars) are clever and (usually) shy animals. However, they are encroaching with increasing frequency into populated areas of the western United States, probably because of human expansion into the wilderness and an increased population of protected animals. Decreased natural food supply is another reason why they may approach populated areas or attack humans. Suburban dwellers (who typically are ignorant of wild animal behavior) are now in regular close contact with mountain lions in their homes and parks, whether they realize it or not. I personally have seen mountain lions in a popular hiking park in the San Francisco Bay area, as well as rummaging through a dumpster in the relatively urban setting of Los Gatos, California.

Victims hiking, jogging and biking may evoke a predatory response. Young animals that are forced out by adults and must find their own territory are the most frequent attackers of humans. Female animals may attack in defense of their young. Children are the preferred victims. There has been only one alleged report of a mountain lioin as a primary man eater, but cougars have sometimes partially eaten victims of their attacks.

The mountain lion hunts like a domestic cat: crouching, slinking, sprinting, pouncing, and then breaking the prey’s neck. The types of injuries to the neck are similar to those described for lions and tigers. Like many potentially dangerous wild animals, the mountain lion can often be scared off by the victim’s aggressive behavior, even after the attack has begun. In 2002, a man fought off and killed an attacking cougar with a pocket knife. In this most recent attack, the wife of the victim was able to repel the animal by striking it in the snout with a branch and stabbing it with a pen.

In addition to the injuries inflicted with claws and teeth, the animal may inoculate the wound with bacteria that can cause serious infections.

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Tags: Bites & Stings

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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