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The Elusive Mountain Lion

Mountain lions (Felis concolor) are the largest native North American cat except for the slightly larger Jaguar. The mountain lion is called by more names than any other mammal – cougar, puma panther, catamount or simply – lion. Adult mountain lions are more than seven feet long with a 32 inch tail. Their color is tawny with black tipped tail and ears. The males are generally larger than females weighing 130 to 150 pounds. The females weight ranges 65 to 90 pounds. Their height at the shoulder is 25 – 30 inches.

Mountain lions breed any time of year, spring being the peak season.  Females usually breed every two to three years. Births are most common in July.  The typical litter size is two or three one-pound kittens, or cubs. They are covered with blackish-brown spots and have dark rings around their tails. These markings will fade as they grow. The cubs are weaned at six weeks of age and will then weight eight times their birth weight.

About half of California is prime mountain lion country. They live in many different parts of California, from deserts to the coast range, remote mountains, canyons, or hilly areas with good cover. They are more at home in brushy areas than in open prairies.  They are most abundant in areas where deer are plentiful as most often deer is the lion’s staple diet. However, they can survive preying on small animals as well. Those animals may include wild hogs, rabbits, skunks ,rodents and other small mammals, birds, and even fish. Mountain lions are solitary hunters and usually hunt at night. They prefer to ambush their prey from behind. Once a mountain lion has killed it’s prey, usually by swiftly and cleanly breaking the neck,  it will gorge on the carcass until it can eat no more, then covers the remainder with leaves and dirt. The lion will now fast for a few days, digesting and resting.  After fasting, the lion may come back to uncover its kill and feed over the course of a few days.

A mountain lion spends most of its time alone and can live about 12 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. Their natural enemies include other large predators such as bears and, at one time in California, wolves. Unfortunately, mountain lions also fall victim to accidents, disease and their chief enemy is people with whom they compete for food and territory.

We live in mountain lion country. Typically, mountain lions are calm, elusive and quiet. Their generally secretive and solitary nature is what makes it possible for humans to live in mountain lion country. They typically avoid people, but like any wild animal, mountain lions can be dangerous.  Mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare. However, with the increasing human population expanding into mountain lion habitat conflicts may occur. They will attack in self defense and to protect their cubs. Even so, the potential for being injured or killed by a mountain lion is very low compared to many other natural hazards. For example, a person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than being attacked by a mountain lion.

Mountain lions are an important predator at the top of the food chain, focusing on deer and elk thereby helping to keep these populations healthy and habitat from being overgrazed. They are essential to the lands in California. Without them, prey animals like deer will increase, resulting in a change of the vegetation. That would possibly have a detrimental effect on the land. Without mountain lions, the ecosystem would change forever.

Understanding the role of mountain lions and how to coexist with them will greatly reduce public fears and persecution of this important predator.

With a better understanding of mountain lions and their habitat, we can coexist with these magnificent animals.  If you live in mountain lion habitat, the following is what you can do to reduce the chances of encountering a mountain lion near your home:

  • Don’t Feed Wildlife: It is illegal in California to do so and by feeding deer, raccoons  and other wild animals, it will attract mountain lions, which prey upon them.
  • Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions: Make it difficult for mountain lions to approach your yard unseen.
  • Install lighting: Motion sensitive lighting around the house or simple outdoor lighting around the perimeter of your house and walkways, keeping it well lit at night.
  • Keep pets secure when mountain lions are most active-dawn,dusk, and night:Roaming pets are easy prey for mountain lions.
  • Provide secure shelter for livestock: Sheep, goats, and other vulnerable animals.
  • Bring pet food inside: This will avoid attracting other wild animals, a mountain lion’s potential prey.
  • Don’t leave small children or pets outside unattended between dusk and dawn.
  • Deer proof your landscaping.

What should you do if you meet a mountain lion?

  • First, do not hike, bike or jog alone: Go in groups with adults supervising children. Avoid these activities when mountain lions are most active, at dawn, dusk and night. Make noise when you hike, bike or jogto reduce the chances of surprising a mountain lion.
  • Always keep a close watch on small children: A child’s small size may draw a mountain lions attention. Keep children within your sight at all times.
  • Never approach a mountain lion.: Most mountain lions prefer to avoid confrontations, so never approach them and make them feel cornered.
  • Never run from a mountain lion: Stand and face the animal. Raise your arms and open your jacket, if wearing one, to appear larger. Pick up small children if present without crouching or bending.  Never bend over or turn away from a mountain lion.Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. Convince thelion that you may be danger to it. Your objective is to make yourself look as LARGE and THREATENING as possible.
  • Fight back if a lion attacks you: A strong walking stick can be useful in warding off a lion.If you have a rock or stick, throw it at the lion and back away very slowly. Lions have been driven away by prey that fight back.
  • Mountain are classified as “specially protected species,” making mountain lion hunting illegal in California.

For information about our native wildlife call Native Animal Rescue at: 462-0726 or visit www.nativeanimalrescue.org

Vikki Simons-Krupp

Native Animal Rescue

Wildlife Rehabilitator/Board member


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