In what must have been the shock of a lifetime, a mountain lion attacked a six-year old boy hiking with his family in a wilderness area of Santa Clara County this past Sunday. The big cat managed to drag the child some distance into the brush before it was driven off by the boy's family members. Now safe in the hospital, the boy is recovering and his condition has been upgraded to fair. Park officials have announced they will hunt the animal down and test it for rabies.
While incidents like this are exceedingly rare, they are still terrifying enough to grip our attention and make sensational news headlines. First off, we should remember that there have only been sixteen such attacks since 1890 - as a park ranger pointed out, you're thousands of times more likely to be struck by lightning. Mountain lions are solitary, stealthy hunters who normally shy away from human beings, seeing them as a potential danger rather than another meal. It could be that the lion in Santa Clara County mistook the boy as one of its normal prey sources - deer or wild pig.
Even spotting a mountain lion is highly unlikely, since these big cats are masters of camouflage and primarily nocturnal. Nonetheless, if you ever do happen to cross paths with one, it's important to observe a few key safety guidelines:
- Make yourself appear as large as possible. Raise your arms and wave them slowly so that the lion sees you as a large predator instead of prey.
- Make plenty of noise. Raise your voice and yell slowly and sternly to discourage the lion from making predatory moves. Bang your walking stick against a tree or throw rocks. Just as you seeing the lion is out of the ordinary, you want to make sure that the lion sees you exactly the same way.
- Maintain eye contact. Show the lion you're not afraid of him by standing up straight, and never crouch or bend down. Never run or turn around. Stand your ground.
- Create distance. Slowly back away, though never turn. The lion's kittens or recent kill might be in the area. Give the lion plenty of room and a way out of the situation, and never back it into a corner, which only threatens it further.
- Fight back. If the lion attacks you, fight back with everything you can. Make sure to protect your neck, throat and head. You can use a knife, sticks, rocks, your jacket or backpack - whatever works to drive the lion away. Punch and kick the lion, and never, ever give up. You can survive.
Source: Mountain Lion Foundation