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Pop quiz, hotshot: If you encounter a mountain lion in the wild, what do you do—what do you do? Most of you probably correctly answered that one should stand their ground, try to appear larger, and throw rocks and sticks to dissuade the animal from identifying you as prey. And whatever you do, don’t run.
Everyone from rangers to Lisa Simpson (as Sacagawea) doles out that advice, but new research pokes a few holes in the conventional method: Wildlife scientists at UC-Davis analyzed cougar behaviors, personal accounts, and 110 years of attacks only to conclude that in some cases, standing your ground might not be your best method of defense. Their advice: run like hell.
“Even though we found evidence that pumas will indeed chase, and capture, people who run, we also found that people who stand still are possibly more endangered,” said the study’s lead author, psychology professor Richard Coss, an expert on the evolution of predator-prey relationships.
“Immobility may be interpreted by the mountain lion as a sign that you are vulnerable prey, either because you are unaware of its presence, or because you are disabled and not capable of escaping.”
The scientists recommend running if you are on dry, flat ground that will enable you to run away “in surefooted fashion with even strides.” Running on uneven, rocky terrain, or snowy terrain may only expose your vulnerability—and that’s like ketchup to a cougar.
Despite the new data, most state and federal wildlife agencies still recommend you stand your ground against an aggressive cougar, and why wouldn’t they? Who wants to endure the embarrassment of saying you escaped a slavering cougar by peeing your pants and running, anyway? Personally, I’d rather be eaten.
Image Credit: Scott Ableman