Outdoors Blog

When was the last fatal attack by a cougar in Idaho?

The cougar attack that killed one mountain biker and injured another last week in Washington brought the secretive predators into the spotlight.

Cougars — also known as mountain lions — are common in Idaho. It's far less common to see them, and almost unheard of for one of the cats to kill a human.

The last documented case of a cougar killing a person in Idaho was in the late 1800s or early 1900s, according to Jon Rachael, the state game manager for Idaho Fish and Game.

Idaho has a mountain lion hunting season that varies by region. Most hunts run from late August to late March but some extend till the end of June. There are quotas for female mountain lions in some regions. More than 600 lions were taken in 2016, the last year for which records have been posted.

"Mountain lions tend to be very secretive and elusive, so even where they live they’re seldom seen by people," Roger Phillips, a public information officer for Fish and Game, wrote in an email. "Mountain lions tend to range over broad expanses and are often nocturnal, so they’re most active when they’re least visible."

The Associated Press reported that in North America there have been about 25 deadly attacks and 95 nonfatal attacks reported in the past century, but more attacks have been reported in the U.S. West and Canada over the past 20 years than in the previous 80, according to Fish and Wildlife.

Here are Idaho Fish and Game's tips for handling a cougar encounter:

Do not run.

If you are with children, pick them up without bending over.

Do not turn your back on the lion, crouch down, or try to hide.

Remain facing the lion and slowly back away. Leave the animal an escape route.

Try to appear as large as possible — stand on a rock or stump, hold up your arms, stand next to others.

Shout, wave your arms and throw objects if the lion does not leave the area.

Fight back if a mountain lion attacks. Stay on your feet and use sticks, rocks, backpack or hands to fight back. Use bear spray if you have it.

Never approach a mountain lion or offer it food.

For more on mountain lions, Fish and Game has a brochure titled Living with Mountain Lions.

Fish and Game tries to relocate cougars that end up in human areas. They've been found in backyard trees and under decks, according to Fish and Game. Cougars are territorial and the dominant cats will kill or drive away other cougars from prime hunting ground (deer and elk are typical prey) and into areas where food can be difficult to find.

Cougars that attack people, pets or livestock typically are killed if located. Sometimes those cats are found in poor physical condition, which makes it more difficult for them to track down wild game and increases the risk to people.

[Related: How to handle bear encounters]