So we’ve been watching this reality show on the History Channel called Alone. It’s sort of like survivor, but colder and more… northwestern. These ten guys get dropped off by themselves at super remote locations around Vancouver Island in British Columbia where the wildlife population outweighs the number of humans - by a longshot. The premise of the show is that these guys fancy themselves survivalists, so the one who lasts the longest out in this “temperate rainforest” (read - soggy and barely above freezing wasteland) gets to take home $500K. That’s a lot of beers in dollar money.
Within the first six days, five of these self-proclaimed “survivalists” had tapped out, and most of those were due to close encounters of the carnivorous kind. One guy was sure that he was being “stalked” by bears when the game cams caught a pair of black bears sniffing out his tent one night. He spooked them off but left the next day, sure they just ran home to plan up their feast menu. The next guy heard wolves howling on a ridge near his campsite and decided they were DEFINITELY headed his way, so he bailed. We got talking about wildlife behavior and how much you do, or do not know, about how these wild beasts act, typically, would definitely determine the fear factor. Also, the dark, and also, being alone, but still, knowledge is power.
Maybe it was bingeing the series that inspired it, or maybe not, but we decided to go camping at my friends’ beach this weekend. The beach is located off of a heavily wooded area right along the Columbia River just after it flows out of Canada with all of those wonderful Canadian gifts in it. You know, things like raw sewage, heavy metals and the occasional corpse. Don’t worry Canada, we’re not mad - I mean look at Hanford, how can we point fingers?
Anyway, camping on this beach seemed like an especially good idea since my friends’ neighbors had just sent her a picture of not one, or even two, but THREE nearly full grown mountain lions hanging out in a tree just above the river near the beach. Cougars. Young, hungry, curious, probably still in pre-frontal lobe development stages of decision making, cougars. Giant kitties with vice-like jaws, razors for claws and fangs for days. LET’S GO STAY THERE! We thought. I think secretly, we both wanted to pretend we were on Alone, except we weren’t Alone, and we took a camp trailer to sleep in. As well as guns.
We had a wonderful time on the beach and nary a sign of cat, kitten or otherwise. Maybe we were secretly disappointed. As we drifted off to sleep in our safe little box of protection and screens, we patted ourselves on the back for SURVIVING and talked about the amazing breakfast we would have earned after a night in the wilderness.
This is where I want to talk about cougar safety. This does not involve always having a wingman to make sure you don’t leave the bar with a woman who is twice your age minus seven (I think that’s the cougar formula?). No, the cougar safety I refer to is how to behave in the wild when a 200 pound cat is breathing down your neck. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, these are the steps that should be taken during a cougar encounter:
- Stop, stand tall and don't run. Pick up small children. Don't run. A cougar's instinct is to chase.
- Do not approach the animal, especially if it is near a kill or with kittens.
- Try to appear larger than the cougar. Never take your eyes off the animal or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
- If the animal displays aggressive behavior, shout, wave your arms and throw rocks. The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger.
- If the cougar attacks, fight back aggressively and try to stay on your feet. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back.
This is a great and helpful list. I would improve it thusly:
- Stop, stand tall and don't run. Pick up small children. Hurl children at cougar and move carefully to a vehicle. Drive fast.
- Do not approach the animal, especially if it is near a kill or with kittens, unless they are VERY cute and you want to Instagram them.
- Try to appear larger than the cougar. Never take your eyes off the animal or turn your back. Use your best Angry Eyes on the cougar. Do not crouch down or try to hide. This would be useless anyway since if you are out in the woods you are definitely wearing some version of neon Patagonia outdoorswear.
- If the animal displays aggressive behavior, shout, wave your arms and throw rocks. If this is what attracted the cougar in the first place, stop doing it.
- If the cougar attacks, fight back aggressively and try to stay on your feet. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back and Very Angry Mothers.
Being an expert on speculative wildlife encounters, I feel like there is a lot of useful information in both of these lists. But back to my story.
We had just drifted off into an oblivious slumber when I heard the cat. I woke Everyone Else up with a whisper-yell of “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” which I am sure the cat did. It turns out that the cat I heard was my friend’s housecat named Bob. Bobcat had no business running around the beach yowling like a wild animal at all hours. Now that we were awake we discussed protocol in case Bob had actually been a cougar. That discussion went like this:
“Where is the shotgun?”
“Under the bed.” pause. Possibly drifting back to sleep. “Wait, did you want to know where the cartridges are too?”
Pause. Possibly wondering if I should be strangled. “Yes.”
“Also under the bed. Should we load the gun?”
“No, let’s wait until you are half-eaten.”
“OK. I have my knife.” Pause. Sleeping?
“That’s great.” definite sarcasm.
We went back to sleep. Later we decided that the most efficient thing would have been to just throw the box of shotgun shells at the cat while screaming at each other in confusion. Fairly certain that would do the trick but if not, check out http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/cougars.html for more information on this.