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Human and Household Pet Encounters With Cougars and Bears

Updated on May 9, 2020

Mountain lion size equals adult human




Certain criteria attract wild animals to homes

General nationwide statistics indicate cougars rarely attack humans. Recently cougars have attacked small children and domestic animals. U.S Wildlife Services vary from state-to-state. California mountain lions responsible for attacking humans are tracked down and killed by rangers. Homeowner pets and children have been victimized by them, and are usually reported about near hilly mountainous terrain.

Pet owners either forgive carnivorous cougars or file a complaint and obtain a depredation permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife to hunt the tress-passing beast. Ten days are granted to hire a hunter, and the kill is restricted within ten miles of the resident home. Hunters often use a dead carcass of a deer to lure the cougar.

People inhabiting mountainous areas in states such as California and Montana attract wildlife because of several reasons:

  • garbage cans attract bears and other wild animals searching for food. Bozeman bears are aware each time garbage trucks stop by downtown resident homes. They eat birdseed, apples, and any appealing food
  • food conditioning is an instance in which animals habitually gain access to food in neighborhood food stock rooms instead of selecting food from their natural environment
  • poor outdoor lighting invites frequent wildlife visitations
  • adequate protection is needed from homes including backyard chickens that attract cougars

Cougar kills deer on San Francisco home porch

Current events of mountain lions

January 23-24, 2017, three dogs were attacked by cougars in Evergreen Jefferson County, Colorado. The first attack occurred at Snowshoe Road, a lone dog didn't suffer life threatening injuries. The second attack involved two dogs around seven p,m. at 6900 block of Lynx Lair Road. One of the dogs was killed. The surviving dog received a booster injection to prevent rabies. Two cougars were photographed.

Monday evening, February 6, 2017, a cougar killed a Glendale family's poodle. The parents were concerned about their kids using the backyard swing-set. Erin Brown saw the cougar leave bloody footprints climbing her fence. Since 30 years ago, California has recorded 16 documented cases about cougar attacks, all incidents occurred in National parks and wildlife preserves.

Monday, April 17, 2017, Pescadero, California, a cougar entered an open bedroom window of a little girl asleep in bed. It snatched her 15 pound dog from "a doggie bed." San Mateo Country Sheriff's Office' deputies claim the dog was taken by a cougar 3:30 a.m. Vickie Fought and her daughter were warned by barking, but she only saw the cougar leaving her home. Mountain lions popularly inhabit the area.

Mid-January, 2016, Natalie Riggs, a real estate agent and yoga teacher lost her two sheep; they were killed by cougars at a 5-acre farm in the Santa Monica Mountains. A sheep's hindquarters was eaten, another sheep was left alone; on occasion, cougars display an eating behavior of killing 10 animals at a time and devour only one animal.

Thursday evening, March 10, 2016, a cougar known as P-22 was suspected of killing an Australian born Koala bear at the Los Angeles Zoo, next to the Griffith Park Observatory. The female bear left her tree and was an easy target in the play pen. P-22 was accused of climbing a nine-foot fence and has worn a tracking collar since 2012. The cougar recently recovered from rat poison. He was seen on surveillance footage several days before the attack. A bobcat or other cougar could have possibly killed the Koala.

Friday, June 18, 2016, a cougar attacked a five-year-old boy who played with his brother, 10 miles northwest of Aspen, Colorado. The boy was hospitalized and the U.S. Forest Service was forced to kill the cougar.

Friday evening, August 15, 2016, a four-year-old girl was saved by her family. She was bit in the arm by a male cougar and suffered minor injuries. The attack took place at a family reunion at a hot springs location in eastern Idaho. Wildlife management killed the animal.

Major problems of cougars in Santa Monica Mountains

Cougar face-off with own specie results in one death

Vehicle collisions

Exposure to rat poisoning

Poachers killing for cougar's fur

Cougar report

Scientific name: Puma concolor

Other names: puma, mountain lion, catamount, panther

Territory range: Atlantic to Pacific Oceans; northern British Columbia to southern Chile; northern rocky terrain of Canadian and American West (the Florida panther is endangered in southern Florida). Most cougars require territory larger than 30-square-mile range

Taxonomy: Behavior is more typical of domestic cats than lions and tigers. Cougars don't roar like big cats, they vocalize "chirps, hisses, and growls."

Adult color: tawny brown; brown or reddish gray

Kittens: born with spots that last two years

Height: stand 24-26 inches tall at shoulders

Weight: 200 pounds max, fourth largest cat in world

Length: measurement from nose to tail records cougars 6-8 feet long

Habitat: cougars like Florida swamps, deserts and thick forests, avoid areas populated by humans, and prefer protective cover and dense vegetation to pursue prey and protect their cubs.

Population estimate in American West: 30,000

Prey accounting for 80 percent of their diet:

  • ungulates
  • white-tail deer
  • mule deer
  • elk

Other small prey:

  • rabbits
  • turkeys
  • bighorn sheep
  • porcupines
  • coyotes
  • raccoons

Hunting style: stalk and ambush predators at night, dawn, or dusk; they pounce on their victims, their jaws bite into jugular

Feeding: cougars don't consume their entire prey at one meal, they save portions of the kill, covering it with leaves and grass, and return to it later

Population regulation

Before the mid-twentieth century, cougars were considered a bounty predator. Management practices organized cougars as game species. Ungulate herds increased. Their population recovered in North America. Young males migrate from established western territories into mid-western territories

Large cougar populations allow hunting permits in Western United States and Canada. White-tail deer recovered their population numbers, another benefit to cougars. Deer have drawn cougars to eastern states, Missouri and Arkansas


Texas mountain lions were introduced into southern Florida. The measure was implemented to prevent Florida panther inbreeding. "Texas-Florida crosses introduced new genetic material and increased the average survival of the endangered panther population."

Problems interacting with cougars

Western United States Mountain lion populations have grown since 1965. Montana increased urban developments and construction in foothills and canyons. States abundant with wildlife expand housing development and highways. Diminishing wildlife habitat encourages animals to seek food outside their comfort zone. Bears and cougars feel the frustrations of early North American Indian tribes; territorial land was taken away from them.

Panthers prey on domesticated pets. Panther team member, Darrell Land, suggests dog owners keep their pets safe in kennels or cages with strong sides and roofs, and protect them from coyotes, too. 20-25 pound animals seize opportunities to pounce on smaller domesticated pets.

National statistics indicate an increased frequency of cougar interactions with humans the past twenty years than reported 80 years ago.

Since 1986 cougar attacks on people have risen. Two devastating attacks were reported in California, 1890 and 1909. But before 1986, no cougar attacks were reported for 77 years. Between 1986 and 1995 nine serious attacks were recorded, an average of 1 attack per year. A group called California Lion Awareness (CLAW; Outside, 10/95) addressed a growing concern.

Cougar behavior is learned by studying the body language of domesticated cats. A threatened observer analyses whether a cougar acts curious or ready to pounce.

Current California mountain lion population growth estimates range from 5,000 to 6,000 lions, nearly equaling positive numbers before hunting parties massacred them. By 1971, recreational hunting decreased mountain lion population to only 600 lions and decimated 90% of their population. In 1972, Governor Ronald Reagan's moratorium restricted recreational hunting. In 1990, Proposition 117 forbade cougar hunting, a law passed by California voters.

Fatal deaths caused by cougars are extremely low. Traffic accidents and pit bulls kill more people than mountain lions.

Montana' summers are peak months when cougars encounter humans. Cougars travel farther to find food and water, and their prey is widely dispersed throughout the state. Juveniles struggle to find prey particularly in August. Seventy to ninety percent of 1-2 year-old cougars encounter humans. They learn to establish their range, identify prey, and investigate hard-to-get food at homes and ranches.

5 Common acts of human behavior during animal attacks

1. Parents leave their children unsupervised

2. Their dog is not collared by a leash during walks

3. Hunters pursue large wounded carnivores

4. People partake in twilight/night activities

5. People approaching large dangerous animals with their young cubs

Diet of Santa Monica Mountain Lion, Los Angeles, CA

scientific name
mule deer
Odocoileus hemionus
Procyon lotor
Taxidea taxus
Canis latrans

Mountain lions are carnivorous but select prey from their natural habitat. The National Park Service conducted a study from 390 kill sites that included 15 mountain lions and determined the animals listed in the chart made up 90 percent of the cougar

Rare instance of cougar causing panic in Chicago community

Factors that attract wild animals

What choice below fails to attract bears and cougars

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Comparison between Grizzly bears and black bears

Grizzly bears; scientific name: ursus arctus horribilis

  • Physical description: concave face, rounded ears, hump on shoulders, long claws from 2-4 inches long, hair color: often dark brown but varies from light cream to black, the long guard hairs on their back and shoulders are nicknamed "white tips," a grizzled appearance effect.
  • Height: 3-3 1/2 at shoulders
  • Length: 6-7 feet
  • Weight: adult males: 300-1,700 pounds; adult females: 200-800 pounds
  • Top speed: 35 mph
  • Lifespan: 20-25 years
  • Distribution and habitat: majority located in Northern Continental Divide (Glacier National Park and Yellowstone), Alaska (especially upstream salmon fishing areas), Canada, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and small numbers in Washington. They favor dense forests, sub-alpine meadows, river banks and streams, open plains and arctic tundra
  • Diet: Grizzlies are omnivores and their prey preference varies: seeds, berries, roots, grasses, fungi, ground squirrels, deer, carrion, caribou, moose, elk, cattle, sheep, fish (salmon), dead animals and insects

Black bears; scientific name: ursus americanas

  • Physical description: small eyes, rounded ears, long snout, long non- retractable claws (they're excellent tree climbers) hair color: blue-gray, blue-black, brown, cinnamon, tiny percentage of white bears (Virginia bears are true black), large body, short tail, shaggy hair
  • Height: 2-3 feet at the withers
  • Length: 4-7 feet
  • Weight: adult males: 130-500 pounds; adult females: 90-250 pounds
  • Top speed: 40 kmph
  • lifespan: 25-30 years
  • Distribution and habitat: American black bear inhabits North America, forest regions, northern Mexico, Canadian provinces, except Prince Edward Isle, 40 U.S. states, eastern U.S. states (prominent populations up to New England), diverse habitat adaptable, but prefer cover and den areas such as caves
  • Diet: Black bears are omnivores and their prey preference varies: grasses, skunk cabbage, acorns and tree nuts, Autumn olive, dogwood, berries (all types), wild grapes, roots, squaw root, insects, fish, carrion, adult amphibians, mountain ash, hawthorn, chokecherry, sassafras, and human food (placed food in disposals)

Grizzly bears are known as brown bears in two states

Alaskan and Canadian coastal bears are called brown bears. The lower 48 states call them Grizzly bears.

Grizzly protective of cub


Recent human and bear encounters

May 11, 2017, 5 a.m. Thursday morning, Roanoke, Virginia, a young 200-pound black bear looked for food in a car and honked the horn. Snacks were inside the vehicle. The bear was stuck inside the car. A police officer opened the back door of the vehicle and the bear fled to the forest. Officer Thayer recommended that people lock their car doors.

October 1, 2016, Saturday, at the Madison Range, Ennis, Southwestern Montana, fifty-year-old, Todd Orr, a Bozeman man, hunted for elk; he luckily survived two attacks from a mother grizzly protecting her cubs. He posted a recorded video on Facebook advertising his bloody face to the world.

June 29, 2016, Wednesday afternoon, South of Glacier National Park, Montana, thirty-eight year-old, Brad Treat, law enforcement officer for U.S. Forest Service, rode his mountain bike by Halfmoon Lake and was knocked off his bike by a grizzly bear and killed. His riding companion wasn't injured. Treat is the 11th person killed by a bear at GNP. The park opened 1910. He was the 7th fatal victim of a grizzly attack.

July 1, 2016, a woman, twenty-eight-year-old, Fangyuan Zhou, hiked the Savage Alpine Trail with friends. She was hospitalized after suffering bite marks and scratches from a grizzly bear attack at Alaska's Denali National Park. National Park Service Rangers located the grizzly and killed it.

Hugh Glass attacked by Grizzly


Dangerous bear encounters

Erik Wenum, wildlife management specialist from Kalispell, Montana, fired beanbag shells and rubber bullets from his shotgun to discourage cougars and bears from stalking homes in nearby towns. He unleashes hunting dogs to chase cougars up trees. Wenum wants wild animals to remember they weren't able to steal food away from him. Averse conditioning discourages wild animals away from ranches and homes.

A black mother bear invaded a home in Oliver Township, central Pennsylvania, October 3, 2011; she attacked a married couple and their pit bull. The bear spotted the dog in the woods and considered it a threat to her cubs. Fifteen months earlier, a woman walked her pet dog and was attacked by a black bear. An estimated 18,000 bears inhabit Pennsylvania. Dogs are potential prey for bears soon as they enter their territory, and can cause more trouble than provide protection.

July 6, 2011, Yellowstone National Park, a female grizzly bear severely bit 57-year-old, Brian Matayoshi, to death. The sow attacked him and his wife in defense of her cubs while they hiked Monday morning. No grizzly had killed a park visitor since 1986.

Bear expert, Mike Orlando, claims bears visit urban yards for food in trash cans, and make frequent visits before winter hibernation.

Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming citizens are exposed to several black bears and grizzly bears. In 2011, reports indicated people were charged by grizzlies 53 times, eight people were injured and it resulted with two deaths at Yellowstone National Park.

Gregg Losinski, regional wildlife conservation educator of Idaho Fish and Game, attributes positive growth in Grizzly bear population because of their recovery program. Grizzlies recolonize in areas where people attempt urban expansion, bears are difficult to chase away, and return to familiar areas.

He cautions people about black bears; they outnumber grizzlies in the U.S. Black Bear attacks equal the number of grizzly attacks. Grizzlies are often considered more aggressive because of their larger size and weight, but black bears sows are very dangerous protecting their cubs.

Idaho Fish and Game encourage people to report bears at their website (

September 16, 2011, Steve Stevenson, A 39-year-old hunter, was killed by a 400-pound male grizzly. He shot and injured a grizzly, mistaking it for a black bear. His four member Winnemucca hunting party pursued black bears close to a heavily forested and mountainous Canadian border. Stevenson tried to protect his young partner, 20 year-old, Ty Bell. Bell shot the bear multiple times, but it killed Stevenson before dying of its wounds. Both hunters tracked the bear into thick cover, but were attacked on the state line between Idaho and Montana.

John Fraley, spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, reported that the grizzly’s body was examined at a Bozeman agency lab. Fraley identified the grizzly from among 45 grizzly bears monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in northwest Montana and northern Idaho, a section called the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem Area.

Nome, Alaska, May 15, 2011, bear hunter, Wes Perkins, 54, was attacked by a grizzly bear. He experienced a severe mauling that broke his jaw, knocked out his teeth, and damaged his tongue. Perkins friends pursued the bear on a snowmobile, killed it, and called for help.

Bears hunt for people if they feel threatened and struggle to find food such as salmon. A few bears experience feeding frenzy before they hibernate in the winter. Warming temperature escalates potential danger. Grizzlies den later in the season, and emerge earlier from hibernation. They have more time to risk interactions with humans. Alaska increases home construction in remote areas.

Unrelated bear attacks close in time

Type of bear
August 14, 2013
Hunter was attacked by grizzly in wilderness and 36 hours later rescued by Alaskan Air National Guard
August 15, 2013
Northern Michigan
Black Bear
12-year-old Abigail Wetherell was attacked by a black bear while jogging and played dead. The bear slashed her thigh. Later, conservationist killed bear.
August 7, 2013
Female grizzly
A hiker at Yellowstone Park was killed by a grizzly sow for getting too close to her cubs. One male survivor suffered claw marks and bites on his back.

Six year Colorado Park and Wildlife black bear study

A 6-year study of black bear interactions with humans has been conducted in Colorado. The bears that inhabit Durango are tempted by food; people inhabit homes 200 yards below their natural habitat.

Sows hunt for garbage scented food in late summer because berries and acorns are scarce. Extra food helps them reproduce, but 80 percent of the bear population isn't addicted to food taken out of garbage disposals. They only forage in the city for survival. Only fifteen percent of bears forage consistently, but also hunt for food outside Durango. They scent track food from far away. Recent statistics negates a two-year study in which a state policy exterminates bears caught eating food from garbage disposals.

Bears are killed for various reasons. Over 2000 bears died in 2014, and 17,000 bear hunting licenses were issued. Road kill from vehicle collisions is a common occurrence. Cubs mistakenly attempt to climb electrical poles for trees and are electrocuted.

Rising warmer temperatures shorten the hibernation period of bears and increases their chances to interact with humans. “Bears hibernate 7 days less for every 1.8-degree increase in their dens.” The rise of human-bear interactions encourages the bears to seek benefits by adapting to urban expansion. Over 1,200 human-bear interactions occurred in 2015.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife research teams study black bears closely. They put bears to sleep with tranquilizer darts shot from six-foot jab poles, and analyze their fur to determine the types of food they have eaten. They study the influence of urban environments on bear behavior and the progression of their population.

Starting July 1, 2011, at Southwestern Colorado, Durango, at a location called Raider Ridge, CPW biologist, Heather Johnson and researchers studied 617 bears and discovered female numbers over a period of years declined by sixty percent. Their numbers decreased less than half: 200 bears to 84 between the year 2011 to 2016. Lack of rain in 2012 had a negative effect. Johnson radio collars the bears, places I.D. chips on the back of cubs’ necks, and monitors movement of 40 bears at a time. Weight counts and measurements are taken of sows and other bears. After testing a sow, Johnson returned three cubs back in the den and reunited them with their mother, a safer haven of survival than the city.

Colorado State University conservation biologist, Barry Noon, claims bear population is dependent on the “carrying capacity of the environment.” Favorable climate condition depends on soil moisture and the production of edible-eating-plants.

High levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, hotter temperatures, and lack of precipitation, cause negative impacts in the wildlife environment.

CPW officials claim that listing an accurate population number of the bears is difficult. No State-wide survey of the bears has been conducted due to lack of funds. 17,000 is a rough estimate analyzing “hair-snag samples and extrapolations,” but don’t indicate actual changing numbers.

CPW officials are attempting to reduce human and bear conflicts by supplying neighborhoods with bear-proof-cans, an example of adverse conditioning.

One bear identified as B268 for tracking purposes was spotted around neighborhoods and water reservoirs, but never hung around public schools, government offices, and business establishments.

Sows chase away their young at 2 years of age; the cubs are given a fifty percent chance of survival in a year.

Small bear visits California residential neighborhood

Black bear swimming



International laws protect other wildcats such as bobcats, a major reason big cats enjoy population revivals. People living closer to nature because of urban developments must realize the consequences of neighboring with wild animals. They must learn how to protect themselves and avoid undesirable encounters with wildcats and bears. Bear pepper spray is important while exploring hiking trails. Hiking should always be planned as a group outing. Ranchers and homesteaders should cut down excessive vegetation growth and secure their garbage in an isolated location. Electrical fencing installation is effective. People experience positive results discouraging foraging by wild animals by applying averse conditioning. Wild animal protection laws are necessary. Troublesome animals can be reported to a wildlife rehabilitative professional. Statistics have proven wild animals such as cougars and bears prefer to avoid humans but urban expansion is responsible for rising human-wild animal encounters.

Accurate current statistics are difficult to obtain. Santa Monica Mountain lions are well monitored like the black bears of Colorado, but some parks lack the funds to pursue a comprehensive population study. Many reports listed human deaths from bears and cougars at a low level ten years ago, but recently those numbers have risen and not widely reported. For instance, statistics of human killings caused by bears and cougars that are reported on the internet are records from the past ten years. Circumstances in the wild are always changing, and hikers surveying wild life terrain need to apply common sense.


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