Do Mountain Lions Attack Humans? Here’s What the Data Says

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: April 16, 2022
Image Credit Kwadrat/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

Mountain lions are deadly carnivores that are frequently apex predators in their range. These large felines are not a member of the big cats owing to their inability to roar, but mountain lions still pose a danger to humans. Their size, power, and willingness to attack large prey give mountain lions a distinct advantage over humans in terms of the ability to inflict harm. Today, we’re going to take a look at the question, do mountain lions attack humans? We’ll review available data to establish the truth and examine trends in mountain lion attacks.

Mountain Lions Have Many Names

Deadliest Cats - Puma
A Puma is an ambush predator. Although their hunting success rate is not that good, they are still one of the deadliest cats out there.

iStock.com/Kara Capaldo

Mountain lions have many names. In fact, they might have more names than any other mammal. Whether you call this creature a mountain lion, cougar, puma, red lion, mountain screamer, ghost cat, panther, or American lion, it’s all the same animal.

This is the Puma concolor, and it is a sizeable cat with tawny or gray fur and white undersides that has a penchant for unearthly screeches.

What Makes Mountain Lions Dangerous to Humans?

mountain lion
Mountain lions are large animals that can attack swiftly

Chris Desborough/Shutterstock.com

Mountain Lion
SizeWeight: 60lbs-190lbs on average, up to 220lb
Length: 5ft-8ft
Height: 2ft-3ft at the shoulder
Speed– 30-40 mph
Defenses– High speed
– Large size
– Good senses
– Ability to hide and use fur to blend into surroundings
Offensive Capabilities– Powerful biting force of 1311N, over 400 PSI
–  Moderately powerful jaws
–  2-inch-long canines
– 2.5-inch claws
Predatory Behavior– Ambush predator that wraps its forelegs around prey and takes them to the ground
– Very quiet hunters that stalk potential prey before attacking

Looking at this data about mountain lions, it should be very apparent what makes these animals dangerous to humans. They have immense attack power and speed to overwhelm their foes.

Also, these mammals possess the ability to sneak up on human beings with ease. In some cases, people only realized they were being stalked at the last second before a blow from the animal landed.

If one of these animals attacked a human from behind and bit into the neck or skull, the person could quickly and easily die of their injuries. Mountain lions do not have a strong bite force compared with other big cats. However, they have more than enough power to sink their teeth into a human skull.

Where Do Mountain Lions Live?

Zion National Park - Hidden Canyon Trail
Mountain Lions are found in Zion National Park and many other mountainous areas

VIKVAD/Shutterstock.com

Mountain lions live in North America, mostly in states on the west coast. Their range goes from British Columbia, Canada all the way to Texas, including states like Utah, Nevada, California, and others. Take a look at the state-by-state mountain lion population breakdown to find out if these cats live near you.

Mountain lions also live in Central and South America. They’re more widespread in South America, present on the entire continent except for a few areas. However, their territory is increasing.  

Do Mountain Lions Attack Humans?

Mountain lions aren’t as large as humans, but they can still cause fatal injuries

A-Z-Animals.com

Yes, mountain lions attack human beings, but these attacks are rare and infrequently fatal. Although mountain lions can grow large, they are often smaller than adult humans, so it’s possible to fight them off. In one case, a jogger who was attacked by a juvenile mountain lion eventually choked the animal to death.

However, these attacks may be becoming even more frequent than before. From 1890 until 1994, only 64 authenticated attacks and 13 fatalities took place in North America. That number has risen to 126 attacks and 27 fatal attacks as of 2022.

Knowing that mountain lions do attack humans, we need to take a closer look at the data. Let’s look at why mountain lions attack humans at all and why they’re increasing.  

Why Do Mountain Lions Attack Humans?

What do mountain lions eat - mountain lion feeding
Mountain lions rarely hunt humans for food; they mostly are protecting their territory

Ipatov/Shutterstock.com

Several reasons exist for the mountain lion attacks on humans. One reason they attack humans is to defend their territory or their cubs. If a human encroaches on their territory or attempts to handle their cubs, the mountain lion will certainly attack.

Mountain lions will also attack humans when their predatory behaviors are activated by human behavior. If they spot a human that starts running away, the mountain lion will think of them as prey. This is particularly troublesome because many hikers are unaware that a mountain lion is stalking them, so they don’t know that their behavior is prompting an attack.

Sometimes, they will eat the remains of human beings, but mountain lions aren’t often trying to kill humans for meat.

Are Attacks Increasing or Decreasing?

Mountain lion attacks and encounters are becoming more common. This is a cause for concern, and many conflicting factors play a part in the situation.

For one thing, mountain lions are losing territory to humans. Farmlands that house livestock and new constructions in remote areas are being built on what was formerly mountain lion territory. When humans move into mountain lion territory and the two meet, there’s bound to be conflict.

At the same time, conservation efforts in some areas are allowing mountain lions to flourish. Simply put, a greater population of mountain lions in an area will increase the amount of contact with humans.

Building off of that point, people are spending more time in remote areas than before. Human beings are traveling into the great outdoors more than ever. Whether humans are camping, hiking, or mountain biking, more people are going to encounter mountain lions.

In areas where population control measures are implemented, mountain lion attacks and encounters are also increasing. When hunters go into the animal’s territory and corner the animals, they’re bound to face attacks or at least record encounters.

All these factors play some role in the increasing mountain lion attacks on humans.

What To Do If You Encounter a Mountain Lion

puma vs mountain lion
Mountain lions can launch an attack from a running start.

Christina Moraes/Shutterstock.com

Mountain lions seek to attack humans in their territory to get them to leave or kill them for food. If you find yourself facing a mountain lion, here are some helpful tips to follow:

  1. Stay calm. Avoid making any sudden movements.
  2. Move back from the mountain lion if it has not yet spotted you.
  3. Mountain lions will sometimes attack if cornered, so if it has spotted you give it room to escape.
  4. Keep sight of the mountain lion.
  5. Expand your profile by waving your arms or using your clothes.
  6. Do not turn away or bend over to pick up anything. That opening will invite the animal to attack.

If the animal starts behaving aggressively, then:

  1. Yell at the mountain lion in a loud voice.
  2. Start throwing whatever you have at the animal to make it turn away.
  3. Prepare to fight if it comes close, protecting your head and neck from the assault.
  4. Fight back with everything and anything you have if attacked. Use sticks, rocks, pocketknives, or anything else that can be reached without bending over
  5. Report attacks to local authorities.

These tips will help you survive an attack by a mountain lion. However, it’s a good practice to bring pepper spray or other means to deter or fight back against these animals.

Our initial question was, do mountain lions attack humans? Yes, they do attack humans, but that doesn’t make you helpless. You can learn how to deter or fight back against mountain lion attacks. As the number of attacks rises in remote areas, hikers, hunters, and other wilderness-loving people need to learn how to deal with these encounters.  

Share this post on:
About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.