The Mountain Lion
Their Latin name is Felis concolor (cat all of one color), but they could also be known as cat of many names, such as puma, catamount, panther or cougar.
Mountain lions can be found in most states across the nation, and are doing well in California. Population estimates in California are from many hundreds to as much as 10,000 animals. It is remarkable that so many mountain lions can live in or near human populations usually with little or no consequence, but occasionally there are problems. Regardless, anyone who catches a glimpse of one will likely never forget it.
As their genus name implies, mountain lions are generally a solid tawny or varying shades of a tan color. The ends of their ears and tail are black tipped. They can be very large in size with some males reaching 8 feet long and up to 180 lbs. Their tail is long in relation to its body, and is used use for balance and control while chasing prey. Mountain lions eat a variety of prey, among them rabbits, squirrels, coyotes and raccoons, but the mainstay of their diet is larger prey such as deer. If you live in an area with a large population of deer chances are you live in mountain lion territory.
Mountain lions will attack livestock (cows, sheep, goats etc.) if the opportunity is present. Occasionally they will kill and eat domestic companion animals. A large dog is no match for a hungry lion. In extremely rare instances people have fallen victim to mountain lion attacks.
Lion numbers have increased in recent years, and their habitat is shrinking. Also, along with continued urban development more people have taken to our mountains and wild land environments for recreation, places mountain lions reside. Mountain biking, camping, hiking, rock climbing and off road-riding have all grown in popularity, and mountain lion encounters have inevitably risen.
Another possible reason for the rise of lion encounters was the passing of California Proposition 117
(1990) which banned the legal taking of any mountain lion for sport. Since then more lions have been taken via special permits from the state (depredation permits), for lions causing damage or threatening humans, than were taken when legally hunted.
Mountain Lions in Trouble
There may be several reasons a mountain lion behaves in a manner that conflicts with human lifestyles. Lions that are sick, injured or old may be forced to prey on easiest targets, such as companion animals and livestock, out of desperation.
Immature lions striking out on their own are unfamiliar with human areas and habits. Often juvenile cats are forced to take territory that is marginal at best, and may have a limited prey base. If large animals such as deer are hard to find they will prey on whatever food source is available.
Lastly, the predatory instincts of a mountain lion are very strong, and when people and domestic animals behave in certain ways these behaviors attract unwanted attention. The unwary movements of people and companion animals are often the trigger causing predatory instinct to take over.
You should notify your local animal control or law enforcement if you notice any of the following:
Lion paw prints are generally large, 3-4 inches across, and claw marks are absent. The pads have a flattened, distinctive ‘M’ shape.
Lions tend to bury their prey under loose leaves, brush and twigs; they will feed off of the carcass for several days. Should you come across such a find, a lion is likely close by. Slowly back away and make your presence known so as not to surprise the lion. Lions ambush from behind so be aware of your entire surroundings, and leave the scene cautiously.
In some instances lions may kill multiple animals in one incident. Lions are not the only predator that does this but the incident should be investigated.