According to Jane Goodall’s foreword to Listening to Cougar , there were 7 attacks on humans between 1992 and 2002 – less than one a year and not all were fatalities. To put that number in perspective, 533 people were killed by hornets, bees, or wasps during roughly the same period and 208 by dogs.
Robert Busch explains in his book The Cougar Almanac that the majority of attacks involve juvenile cougars who have left the tutelage of their mothers, but have yet to master the art of hunting (much like our friend in South Dakota, a 2 year old male who may have also been pushed to the fringes by more dominate males). Other attacks, he says, are often perpetrated by mother cougars protecting their young. Several attacks including one in 1990 in Colorado and one in 1993 in California involved people jogging. Busch explains that cougars, like many other predators, have a natural chase instinct. It’s the same instinct that makes your house cat chase laser lights and pieces of string.
Overwhelmingly, these attacks also happened not in cities, but in rural areas or nature preserves. One of the most well known occurred in Caspers Wilderness Park in southern California in 1986 when a cougar snatched a five year old girl from alongside a creek in the park. Fortunately, she survived the attack. Surprisingly, the parents of the girl did not call for the extermination of cougars, but rather won a $2 million dollar suit against the county because they were not thoroughly warned about the possible danger of cougars.
How much of the policy of executing cougars who wander into cities has to do with sound wildlife management and concern for the public good, and how much has to do with governments striving to avoid potential lawsuits?