What should you do when Canada's largest wild cat - a silent, stalking predator - springs from the bushes and attempts to make a Fancy Feast out of your face?
On Monday, a cougar snatched an 18-month-old boy from the edges of a beach on Vancouver Island. Parks Canada credited the boy's grandfather with doing everything he should have during the attack, and now the little guy is recovering in intensive care. Thankfully the prognosis is positive.
So what, exactly, are all the right things to do when you encounter a cougar, if it decides to attack?
A cougar is faster than you. And more agile. It can run down a deer. It can cover 12 metres in a single pounce, and can jump 4.5 metres straight up. Remember how you fared in long jump and high jump on track and field day? If you went to the same school, Cougar would be wearing all the 1st place ribbons. And moreover, when you run you look like fearful prey, which cougars are pretty good at pursuing.
Pick Up Your Kids.
If you happen upon a cougar, immediately hoist children into your arms. Children are small and comparably weak, just like other cougar-approved forest treats (rabbits, fawns, beavers, etc.). Also, a child's frightened movements can freak out an otherwise peace-loving cougar and trigger an attack.
It's a standoff. Don't break eye contact. Lock your gaze on that coiled mass of muscle and let it know that while you couldn't drag an 800-pound horse through the woods using only your mouth, your eyes are strong, and filled with an unblinking resolve. If there is an opportunity to slowly back away, do so - but maintain that face-to-face position. Never turn away.
Ideally you have a Voltron-like ability to assemble into a mechanical giant, but if not, quickly assess your surroundings and supplies and use them to help make yourself look as big as possible. Stand upright with your hands outstretched over your head, holding a large leafy branch or umbrella or whatever else is nearby. Wave these items around. Become a monster.
It worked for Muhammad Ali, and it can work for you. Be vocal. Be loud. Punctuate your taunts and shouts by throwing rocks and bottles. You want the cougar to see you as a threat, not a snack.
Note: A calm voice isn't the play here. Trying to soothe a cougar creates fear and confusion in the big cat, two things you don't want to foster.
Not for you. You're not running away, remember? The escape route is for the cougar. Once you've managed to successfully intimidate the cougar (bigness, branches, shouting), make sure it has a path away from you (that doesn't involve going through you).
If you find that you've unintentionally cornered a cougar, slowly edge sideways (while maintaining that vital eye contact) and give it a wide berth so it can turn tail and run.
If the cougar you meet is starving, sick, overly bold or protecting its young, it may attack regardless of how you handle the encounter. If it does - fight back. DO NOT drop to the ground or roll into a supplicating ball. As soon as you do, the cougar wins. It will see you as small prey, and will have a good shot at attacking the back of your head and your neck, which can, you know, end the contest in Round 1.
If you don't happen to be traveling with a firearm or knife or can of pepper spray (who leaves the house without them?) then grab a rock, a branch, tent poles, a fishing rod, a soup pot, your Canon 5D Mark II (it can be replaced!) - use anything and everything possible to fight off the big cat.
Aim your strikes to the face. Throw sand or dirt in its eyes. If it manages to grab hold of you, claw at its eyes with your fingers and thumbs and try to swing the cat down, hard, on its back, which can stun it and allow you to reposition yourself for the next attack.