Encounters with mountain lions (also called cougars or pumas) have increased significantly in recent years. In part that is due to the increased number of people living in and visiting their habitat and in part due to the increased numbers after hunting was banned. Essentially, anywhere deer are present, there are probably also mountain lions.
Though sightings continue to be rare (as they are very secretive animals), there is a danger if the lion considers you as prey or as a threat. The following suggested precautions and actions are directly from a bulletin from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, titled "Living with California Mountain Lions".
What Should You Do If You Encounter a Mountain Lion?
There's been very little research on how to avoid mountain lion attacks. But mountain lion attacks that have occurred are being analyzed in the hope that some crucial questions can be answered: Did the victim do something to inadvertently provoke an attack? What should a person who is approached by a mountain lion do--or not do? The following suggestions are based on studies of mountain lion behavior and analysis of attacks by mountain lions, tigers and leopards:
DO NOT HIKE ALONE: Go in groups, with adults supervising children.
KEEP CHILDREN CLOSE TO YOU: Observations of captured wild mountain lions reveal that the animals seem especially drawn to children. Keep children within your sight at all times.
DO NOT APPROACH A LION: Most mountain lions 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: In Nepal, a researcher studying tigers and leopards watched the big cats kill cattle and domestic water buffalo while ignoring humans standing nearby. He surmised that a human standing up is just not the right shape for a cat's 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 country, avoid squatting, crouching or bending over, even when picking up children.
DO ALL YOU CAN TO APPEAR LARGER: Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Again, pick up small children. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.
FIGHT BACK IF ATTACKED: 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.
IMMEDIATELY REPORT ALL ENCOUNTERS OR ATTACKS: If you are involved in a face-to-face encounter with, or an attack by, a mountain lion, contact the nearest office of the California Department of Fish and Game during regular business hours: Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM After hours, call the nearest Sheriff's Office to be put in touch with the Department of Fish and Game. The threat to public safety will be assessed and any appropriate action will be taken. Also report any sightings of dead or injured, mountain lions.