MISSOULA - This edition of A Wilder View takes a look at why you don’t have to be as afraid as mountain lions as you might think.
Fear is an entirely normal feeling. Whether you're afraid of the dark or of mountain lions. In some cases, that fear may just save your life. But in others learning to focus your fear is the only way you'll make it out in one piece.
When hiking on a trail most adventurers aren’t looking to have a face-to-face encounter with a mountain lion. There’s something about those large paws, sharp teeth, and silent behavior that can implore fear into even the boldest hiker, fisherman, or hunter.
The most common encounters with a mountain lion are the ones you'll never know you had. The lion sees you, but you don’t see them. Now, if you ever find yourself face to face with a mountain lion, look big, throw rocks – and never turn your back on the animal.
In the last 100 years, less than 24 people have been killed by mountain lions in North America which means you’re more likely to be killed by a cow, which happens about 20 times a year in the U.S. according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
A bee sting — which claims 100 lives annually — can also be costly. And, you’re actually more likely to be bitten by another person than attacked by a mountain lion as 1,500 people are bitten every year in New York alone.
These numbers don’t always help you feel more comfortable roaming around the wilderness not knowing what lurks behind you. That fear can be a primitive survival instinct created by our subconscious brain reacting to a perceived threat.
We know mountain lions are skilled predators, and we know — like many other species of wildlife, and apparently humans — they can be unpredictable. With that said, there's actually a scientific reason that we are more fearful of mountain lions than other predators.
Biologists suggest it may have started with fairy tales like The Big Bad Wolf planting seeds in our subconscious. Firsthand accounts of interacting with these animals fascinate us long after we've become adults.
Encounters with large carnivores tend to receive more press than a bee sting or a person being bitten on a subway. But remember as with most wildlife, mountain lions are more afraid of you than you are of them.
Mountain lions continue to demonstrate a strong aversion to people. Studies have even shown they will leave a meal behind to avoid someone within earshot. But, they’re adapting their behavior to a changing environment.
As deer move into our cities, so do predators. Climate change and drought can also drive lions closer to people in order to access reliable water sources.
Even as encounters increase as they follow their prey species into more populated areas, people are not the preferred food source. Their diet primarily consists of ungulates, especially deer, but also coyotes, raccoons, and other small mammals.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to encounters with mountain lions is that it’s an extremely rare event. So don’t let it deter you from heading out on your favorite trail.