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Some Facts about Mountain Lions

Even though half of California is prime mountain lion country, these animals are rarely seen by humans. The mountain lion, also called cougar, puma, or panther, once ranged across North America and from Canada to the tip of South America. Its scientific name, Felis concolor, means "cat of one color", which is usually tawny colored or reddish-brown with black markings on the face, ears and tip of the tail. Young kittens (or cubs) have black spots. Adult males can be over eight feet long (including nearly three feet of tail) and can weigh over 150 pounds; females weigh about 90 to 110 pounds. An adult cougar's front paw track is about 3 1/2 " across, with rear paw tracks slightly smaller.

In general, mountain lions are calm, quiet and elusive. They are most commonly found in areas with plentiful prey such as deer, bighorn sheep, raccoons, rodents, and other small animals. They usually hunt alone, at night. They typically cover the carcass with leaves or branches and may return to feed on it for several days. Though they are most active at dusk and dawn, they can be seen at any time of the day. Mountain lions are solitary except during mating. Cubs and mothers can stay together for two years. In the wild their life span is about 12 years.

It is due to their secretive and solitary nature that it is possible for humans to live in mountain lion country without ever seeing a mountain lion. The potential for a human to be killed or injured by a mountain lion is quite low compared to other natural hazards. It is more likely that a person will be struck by lightning, for example, than of being attacked by a mountain lion. Over the past 100 years, records show that only 13 fatal mountain lion attacks occurred on the entire North American continent. In that same time, more than 15,000 people were killed by lightning; 4,000 by bees; 10,000 by deer; 1,300 by rattlesnakes.

Though few people will ever see a mountain lion, if you do see one, the following suggestions can increase your chances of a safe encounter:

Preventing an Encounter with a Mountain Lion:

  • Don't hike or jog alone
  • Keep children close to you
  • Avoid dead animals
  • Leave pets at home
  • Be alert to surroundings
  • Use a walking stick

If You Meet a Mountain Lion:

  • Don't run away
  • Stand and face it
  • Pick up children
  • Appear large, wave arms or jacket over your head
  • Do not approach
  • Back away slowly
  • Keep eye contact

If Mountain Lion is Aggressive:

  • Don't turn your back 
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Remain standing
  • Don't crouch or bend over
  • Shout Loudly
  • Throw things (rocks, sticks, etc.)
  • Fight back aggressively if attacked

If you are involved in a face-to-face encounter with, or an attack by, a mountain lion, contact the nearest office of the California Department of Fish and Game during regular business hours: Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. After hours, call the nearest Sheriff's office to be put in touch with the Department of Fish and Game. The threat to public safety will be assessed and any appropriate action will be taken. Also report any sighting of dead or injured mountain lions.

If you are interested in finding out more information about mountain lions, check out the website www.mountainlion.org.