UC Berkeley’s police department issued a “safety alert” warning students, faculty, and other campus-goers of a mountain lion sighting on the Upper Fire Trail near Skyline Ridge in the hills above the school’s campus.
While the sighting itself actually took place the previous week, campus cops note that “in the past couple of years, several sightings of mountain lions have occurred in the hills above the Berkeley campus and carcasses of animals suspected to have been attacked by mountain lions were also discovered.”
(Another sighting around the school happened last November.)
Generally, mountain lions prefer to avoid human beings, and attacks are rare; the last fatal mountain lion encounter in California happened in 2004.
However, two fatal attacks happened in Oregon and Washington in 2018, the Oregon death being the first of its kind ever recorded in that state.
Authorities say to avoid hiking or jogging alone “especially between dusk and dawn” around campus, to make plenty of noise while moving to avoid potentially surprising the animal, and to “hike with a good walking stick” as “this can be useful in warding off a lion.”
The warning also advises that “if you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms” and to “throw rocks or other objects”—toward it but not at it—to drive the animal off.
The National Park Service (NPS) agrees with the advice not to run, which could provoke a mountain lion into attacking because “running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase.”
NPS also says “biologists surmise mountain lions don’t recognize standing humans as prey”—hence the advice to stand up and emphasize your heights. Bending over or squatting might lead the cat to mistake a human for “a four-legged prey animal” instead. So don’t do that.
The National Wildlife Federation says that mountain lions can run up to 50 miles per hour and jump 40 feet to pounce.
While there’s always some danger when encountering wild animals, for the most part mountain lions are reclusive creatures who prefer to be left alone. As many as 6,000 of the big cats call California home in an average year.