Following is an account of a very scarey near-disaster with a desert cougar.... My friend John, a big, tall fellow, was mountain biking alone in the wilds of Utah in 2001...But before his story, I add this note: Oregon residents tend to think of cougars as if the animal prefers the dense, temperate rainforests of the wetter side of Oregon, but that is definitely not true. An original preferred habitat of the cougar/mountain lion/puma is the dry deserts and canyons of the American Southwest, and down into Mexico! (my image is at Smith Rock State Park, near Redmond in Central Oregon; it's one of Oregon's most deserty areas). Now, let's get back to this Utah cougar encounter. John's wife Sheryl recounts what happened: Smith Rock, Burma Road shown
"Yes, I think a person on a bike looks
very similar to something a cougar would want to eat. All that
motion is sooo intriguing.
Luckily for John (I think), he wasn't on the bike when he first met the cat. Of course, who knows how long it had been stalking him. He had been on a particularly steep slope and stopped to take a break. Ate a power bar or something and decided the climb wasn't worth it so was going to head back down."
"When he stood up, he noticed the cat
further up the trail looking at him. He said his first reaction
was, "Cool. How many people get to see a cougar up this close
in the wild!" His second thought was, "Hmmm... that
cat doesn't seem to be afraid of me." The cat approached,
and John yelled and threw rocks until it eventually slunk off
into the brush. He decided either the cat had left or, if not,
he might be able to outrun it since it was all downhill biking.
He jumped on the bike and hauled ass but immediately saw the cougar
take up the chase from inside the treeline. He could tell it was
going to leap, saw a huge stick in the trail and in one desperate
motion leapt off the bike and grabbed the stick. The bike slid
in between him and the cat, which we think temporarily freaked
the cat out. It stopped and backed up. John started swinging over
the bike with the stick. He said the cat was amazingly agile.
He never once touched it with the stick though they stood a mere
five feet or so apart with only the bike separating them. More
yelling ensued and eventually the cat started backing up again.
John picked up his bike and started edging down the trail (very
alert now!). After some rather long distance, he did remount and
head for camp with an exciting tale."
"I, too, have heard that small running children are the utlimate lure for the cougar. Makes sense since they look like managable prey. I think the bike (once he was off it) was a big advantage for John. I would suggest, in any similar experience, that the attacked hang on to the bike and keep it between themselves and the cat."
John's close call, plus my own family's brush with a possible big cougar in the Table Rock area (see previous page), are what combined to finally bring me out of the easy denial of "It can't happen to me." And so I have added these public awareness pages about cougars and mountain lions to my OregonPhotos coverage of Oregon.