NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Big Cat Attacks Rising

August 9, 1998

Once hunted nearly to extinction, cougars -- also called mountain lions, pumas or panthers -- are on the rebound around the western United States, say observers. But the public is becoming jittery about the growing number of attacks by these predators.

  • There have been 10 fatal cougar attacks on people recorded since 1980, but five of those were in the past 10 years.
  • In Colorado, cougars have attacked three hikers in the last year, including killing a 10-year-old hiker in July 1997 at Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Non-lethal attacks are also on the rise -- for instance, a 6-year-old boy non-fatally attacked on July 31, 1998, in Montana.

And the big cats like livestock and pets -- leading Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and New Mexico to relax their cougar-hunting rules recently after complaints from ranchers and deer hunters. However, the West's more urban states have grown more protective --- with Washington state voters banning the use of hounds for cougar hunting in 1996 and Oregon voters rejecting a challenge to their state's ban.

  • In California, a ban on all sport hunting of cougars helped double their numbers since 1972 to an estimated 5,000 animals.
  • Even after cougars killed two California hikers, voters rejected a 1996 proposal to reinstate hunting.
  • Hunters note that an average of 100 "problem" cougars are killed each year in California, about twice the number killed annually by hunters before the 1972 ban.

Many hunters and some game officials believe cougars are becoming bolder in the absence of hunting. But British Columbia has the continent's highest rate of cougar attacks despite heavy hunting, says Brooks Fahy of the Predator Defense Institute in Eugene, Ore. He says the dramatic rise in both cougar and human populations explains the increasing number of encounters.

Source: David Foster (Associated Press), "Cougars Pounce Back from Near Extinction in the West," Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 9, 1998.


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