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Hiking and wildlife safety

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Cougars often only come out when it's dark outside. Cougars often only come out when it's dark outside.

YAKIMA, WA - The next time you're heading off for a hike in the Pacific Northwest, there's a few things to know in case you're confronted by a mountain lion. 

It's not rare to see a cougar roaming around on one of your hikes. According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, there's roughly 80,000 cougars living in the state. They're mostly active during dusk to dawn, and are mostly found where there is suitable cover and prey are found. Cougar attacks in Washington State are extremely rare; the last fatal attack happened in 1924. 

If you live in an area with heavy mountain lion presence you should probably modify the habitat around your home. Make sure all your pathways are lighted at night. Shrubs and trees should be trimmed regularly to prevent cougars from hiding behind them.

While recreating in cougar habitat, you should:

  1. Hike in small groups and make enough noise to avoid surprising a cougar.
  2. Keep your camp clean and store food and garbage in double plastic bags.
  3. Keep small children close to the group, preferably in plain sight just ahead of you.
  4. Do not approach dead animals, especially deer or elk; they could have been cougar prey left for a later meal.

If you encounter a cougar:

  1. Stop, pick up small children immediately, and don’t run. Running and rapid movements may trigger an attack. Remember, at close range, a cougar’s instinct is to chase.
  2. Face the cougar. Talk to it firmly while slowly backing away. Always leave the animal an escape route.
  3. Try to appear larger than the cougar. Get above it (e.g., step up onto a rock or stump). If wearing a jacket, hold it open to further increase your apparent size. If you are in a group, stand shoulder-to-shoulder to appear intimidating.
  4. Do not take your eyes off the cougar or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
  5. Never approach the cougar, especially if it is near a kill or with kittens, and never offer it food.
  6. If the cougar does not flee, be more assertive. If it shows signs of aggression (crouches with ears back, teeth bared, hissing, tail twitching, and hind feet pumping in preparation to jump), shout, wave your arms and throw anything you have available (water bottle, book, backpack). The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger.
  7. If the cougar attacks, fight back. Be aggressive and try to stay on your feet. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back using anything within reach, including sticks, rocks, shovels, backpacks, and clothing—even bare hands. If you are aggressive enough, a cougar will flee, realizing it has made a mistake. Pepper spray in the cougar’s face is also effective in the extreme unlikelihood of a close encounter with a cougar.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife responds to cougar and bear sightings when there is a threat to public safety or property. If it is an emergency, dial 9-1-1. For more information make sure to head on over to their website https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/cougars.html

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