When venturing away from cityscapes and into the untamed wild, you can go from thinking you’re the undeniable head honcho of the food chain to feeling like an up-for-grabs piece of prey pretty quickly. Although big cat attacks are surprisingly rare, with less than one death occurring on average per year, it is still smart to enter big cat territory prepared for the possibility of an encounter. So to get you ready to share the forest alongside these stealthy, powerful, and graceful creatures, check out these tips for camping and hiking in big cat territory!
Tip #1: Be Loud, Not Bowed
Big cats prefer to avoid confrontation, so if you make your presence known, they will likely go out of their way to leave you alone. Generate lots of noise, talk loud, and consider bringing a whistle or a bell to aid you in this. Always stand tall and avoid crouching down. If you’re bending down and collecting firewood, a big cat can easily mistake you for a four-legged snack.
Tip #2: Practice Power In Numbers
Avoid camping or hiking in big cat territory by yourself. You greatly increase your risk of being stalked by a big cat when you travel alone and some studies indicate your risk might be three times as high compared to traveling with others. Stick together as you hike and don’t let anyone stray ahead or fall behind on the trail. Keep children and pets especially close as they are easy targets that draw the attention of big cats. If possible, leave little ones and dogs at home.
Tip #3: Stay Aware and Alert
Keep your eyes peeled for signs of big cats in your close vicinity. Look for tracks, which will appear with four toes, most often with the absence of claw imprints. Also look for droppings and tree markings. Listen to the surrounding sounds. Do the birds suddenly stir? Have the squirrels stopped chattering? These can be indications that they perceive a threat, which can signal to you that a big cat is in the area.
Tip #4: Time and Place Matter
Don’t hike during the late hours of the day as big cats are most active from dusk to dawn. You should also be cautious of where you set up camp. If you choose to pitch a tent right beside one of the main water sources in the area, you increase your chances of encountering predators who will be drawn to your location to quench their thirst. While those rivers and streams may seem like a great spot to hunker down for the night, you’re probably not the only creature in the forest who thinks so.
Encountering a Big Cat
Even if you follow all of these recommended tips, you may still encounter a big cat while camping or hiking. The worst thing you can possibly do when coming face to face with a 130 pound feline is run, as you may trigger its instinct to chase. Instead, try these intimidation tactics while slowly backing away from the animal:
- Stretch out your arms
- Puff out your chest
- Make rapid movements
- Flash your teeth
- Maintain eye contact
- Speak loudly and yell firmly (but avoid screaming or shrieking out of terror)
- Bang sticks together
- Clap your hands
- Throw rocks
As you attempt to intimidate the big cat, make sure that it’s not cornered and that is has a means of escaping. After the incident is over, report it immediately and you may save someone else nearby the horror of a similar encounter.
Getting Attacked by a Big Cat
You’ll know that a mountain lion is preparing to attack when it positions itself low on the ground, twitching its tail back and forth, all the while staring directly at you (gulp!). When an attack is imminent the worst thing you can do is play dead. Instead, try these defensive tactics:
- Protect your head, neck, and stomach as these will be the most targeted areas
- Use every instrument at your disposal to fight back (i.e. rocks, walking stick, pepper spray)
- Punch the animal in the nose and face
- Gouge its eyes
- Yell for help and seek medical treatment immediately
Although the chances of encountering a big cat while camping or hiking are slim, and your chances of being attacked are even slimmer, it’s always better to be prepared for the possibility. Like all wildlife, be respectful of their space and they should be respectful of yours. Do you have any other tips or advice for camping and hiking in big cat territory? Leave us a comment!