Mountain Lions

Nearly half of California is prime mountain lion territory. They are most commonly found in areas with plentiful prey and adequate coverage. These conditions are often found in mountain subdivisions, urban fringes, and open spaces ranging from humid coastal forests to the deserts out east.

Their status in California has evolved over the years as they use to be a bountied predator and killed for money but are now a special protected mammal. Today’s California mountain lion population estimate ranges from 4,000-6,000. The population has grown nearly 10 times what it was in the 1920s. This may be attributed to a decrease in natural predators.

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The mountain lion, also known as a cougar, panther or puma, is tawny-colored with black-tipped ears and tail. Their kittens, or cubs, are covered with blackish-brown spots with dark rings around their tails. The markings fade as they mature.

Mountain lions usually hunt alone, at night. They ambush their prey from behind and kill with a powerful bite at the base of the skull. They do not eat their prey all at one sitting, rather, they cover the carcass with leaves, dirt, or snow and may come back to feed on it over the course of a few days.

Even if you live in mountain lion territory it is possible to never see one due to their secretive and solitary nature. The potential for being injured or killed by a mountain lion is quite low compared to other natural hazards.

If you come face-to-face with a mountain lion here are some tips:

  • Do not hike alone; go in a group
  • Keep children close to you - mountain lions are especially drawn to children because of their small size, versus adults
  • Do not approach a mountain lion - they will choose to avoid confrontation if you give them an escape route
  • Do not run from a mountain lion - this shows weakness and they may chase you, instead stand tall and face the animal, and wave your arms and throw objects
  • Do not crouch or bend over - if you need to tie your shoe or pick up a child, do it quickly and have a friend watch your back
  • Fight back if attacked - you can use rocks, sticks, jackets, hats, hiking poles or your bare hands if necessary to fight off a mountain lion
  • Report an attack ASAP - call 911 and inform a Park Ranger

When you use your best common sense, it is easy to stay safe around mountain lions whether you are on a trail, out camping, or even in your own backyard. We can coexist with these magnificent animals with a better understanding of how they live in the wild. 

Thank you for your cooperation as we work to balance recreation with the preservation of species that define San Diego.

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