California Nature

Learn about California's beautiful and unique nature.

California Mountain Lion
mountains lions live in over 50% of CaliforniaMore than half of California is mountain lion habitat. Mountain lions generally exist wherever deer are found. They are solitary and elusive, and their nature is to avoid humans. Mountain lions prefer deer but, if allowed, they also eat pets and livestock. In extremely rare cases, even people have fallen prey to mountain lions. They are a Specially Protected Mammal in California and cannot be hunted.

Mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare. However, conflicts are increasing as California’s human population expands into mountain lion habitat. If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children. If attacked, fight back.

If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911. With a better understanding of mountain lions and their habitat, we can coexist with these magnificent animals. The California mountain lion is shy and tries to stay away from people The mountain lion, also known as cougar, panther or puma, is tawny colored with black tipped ears and tail. Although smaller than the jaguar, it is one of North America's largest cats.Adult males may be more than 8 feet long, from nose to end of tail, and generally weigh between 130 and 150 pounds. Adult females can be 7 feet long and weigh between 65 and 90 pounds. Mountain lions kittens, or cubs, are covered with blackish brown spots and have dark rings around their tails. The markings fade as they mature.

Mountain lions are very powerful and normally prey upon large animal, such as deer, bighorn sheep and elk. However, they can survive preying on small animals as well. They usually hunt alone, at night. They prefer to ambush their prey, often from behind. They usually kill with a powerful bite below the base of the skull, breaking the neck.

Mountain lions often cover the carcass with dirt, leaves or snow and may come back to feed on it over the course of a few days. Their generally secretive and solitary nature is what makes it possible for humans to live in mountain lion country without ever seeing a mountain lion.

In California, mountain lion populations have grown. In 1920, a rough estimate put the mountain lion population at 600. Since then, more accurate estimates, based on field studies of mountain lions, revealed a population of more than 2,000 mountain lions in the 70's. Today's population estimate ranges between 4,000-6,000. Mountain lions live in many different types of habitat in California, from deserts to humid coast range forest, and from sea level to 10,000-foot elevations. They generally will be most abundant in areas with plentiful deer.

An adult male's home range often spans over 100 square miles. Females generally use smaller areas, about twenty to sixty square miles. Along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, where competition for habitat is intense, as many as ten adult lions occupy the same 100 square mile area.

The California mountain lion is shy and tries to stay away from peopleOnly females are involved in parenting. Female cougars are fiercely protective of their cubs, and have been seen to successfully fight off animals as large as grizzly bears in their defense. Litter size is between one and six cubs; typically two or three. Caves and other alcoves that offer protection are used as litter dens. Born blind, cubs are completely dependent on their mother at first, and begin to be weaned at around three months of age. As they grow, they begin to go out on forays with their mother, first visiting kill sites, and after six months beginning to hunt small prey on their own. Kitten survival rates are just over one per litter

Young adults leave their mother to attempt to establish their own territory at around two years of age and sometimes earlier; males tend to leave sooner. One study has shown high mortality amongst mountain lions that travel farthest from the maternal range, often due to conflicts with other cougars.

Like almost all cats, the cougar is a solitary animal. Only mothers and kittens live in groups, with adults meeting only to mate. It is secretive and crepuscular, being most active around dawn and dusk. Dogs and lions prints at a glance look very much alike. But if you look close the obvious toenail prints for dogs, are absent for mountain lions. Also the lion track has a distinctive "M" shaped pad.

A mountain lion's natural life span is probably about 12 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. Natural enemies include other large predators such as bears, lions and, at one time in California, wolves. They also fall victim to accidents, disease, road hazards and people.

People rarely get more than a brief glimpse of a mountain lion in the wild. Lion attacks on people are rare, with fewer than two dozen fatalities in North America in more than 100 years. Most of the attacks were by young lions, perhaps forced out to hunt on their own and not yet living in established areas. Young lions may key in on easy prey, like pets and small children.

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