TRAINING TIPS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CALIFORNIA MOUNTAIN LIONS
Submitted by Lenore Ceithaml and Jan Frazee, as adapted from the recommendations of the California Department of Fish and Game. Special thanks to Laura Itogawa, Superintendent, Cuyamaca Rancho State park, for her input.
SOME FACTS ABOUT MOUNTAIN LIONS:
Commonly known as cougar, panther or puma.
Tawny-colored with black-tipped ears and tail.
Adult males may be more than 8 feet long, from nose to end of tail, and weigh between 130 and 150 pounds.
Adult females may be 7 feet long and weigh 65 to 90 pounds.
Cubs are covered with blackish-brown spots and have dark rings around their tails.
These markings fade as the cubs mature.
Generally calm, quiet and elusive with humans.
Unpredictable, very powerful and normally prey upon large animals, such as deer, bighorn sheep and elk.
They can also survive preying on small animals, including dogs.
Usually hunt alone between dusk and dawn.
They prefer to ambush their prey from behind.
They frequently hunt steep slopes, tackling prey from above.
They usually kill with a powerful bite below the base of the skull, breaking the neck.
They often cover the carcass with dirt, leaves or snow and may come back to feed on it over the course of a few days.
Often they sleep or rest near kills.
Commonly found in areas with plentiful prey and adequate cover, including mountain subdivisions, urban fringes and open spaces.
In California, from deserts to humid coast range forests.
From sea level to 10,000 foot elevations.
Adult male’s home range often spans over 100 square miles.
Adult female’s home range spans 20 to 60 square miles.
Along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, where competition for habitat is intense, as many as 10 adult mountain lions occupy the same 100 square mile area.
In California, the population estimate ranges between 4,000 and 6,000.
Life span is about 12 years in the wild.
Natural enemies include other large predators such as bears and, at one time, wolves.
They also fall victim to accidents, disease, road hazards, and people.
SAFETY TIPS FOR AVOIDING TROUBLE WITH MOUNTAIN LIONS:
DO NOT HIKE ALONE: Hike with a companion, other than your canine partner. Dogs have little or no value as a deterrent and they may draw the mountain lion to you. Fatal attacks usually occur when a person is hiking by herself or himself. If you have no choice but to hike alone, sling a heavy stick across your shoulders to protect your neck and turn around regularly to keep track of what’s behind you. Half of the people attacked by mountain lions never knew what hit them, or didn’t see them until it was too late to react. It is also recommended that you wear a hat with a neck shield or tie a bandana to your ball cap to cover your neck. Draw a face or at least eyes on the back of your hat to fool the mountain lion into thinking you are watching him.
KEEP CHILDREN CLOSE TO YOU: Adults supervise children.
AVOID MOUNTAIN LION KILL: Especially don’t place training or testing subjects near deer or animal carcasses that could have been "stashed" by mountain lions.
DO NOT APPROACH A MOUNTAIN LION: Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them time and room to get away from you.
DO NOT RUN FROM A MOUNTAIN LION: Running triggers the mountain lion’s prey drive. Instead, stand and face the animal. If you encounter a mountain lion, make and maintain eye contact. Do not ever turn your back on the mountain lion.
DO NOT CROUCH DOWN OR BEND OVER: A person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal. It is surmised that a human standing up is just not the right shape for a cat’s prey. Don’t place training or test subjects in thick contiguous brush and vegetation near trails as mountain lions often make their day beds there.
DO ALL YOU CAN TO APPEAR LARGER: If you encounter a mountain lion, try to make yourself look big and aggressive. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Throw rocks, wave branches or walking sticks. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. Do not scream or use a high-pitched voice. Bark like a dog. Show your teeth. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.
FIGHT BACK IF ATTACKED: People have successfully fought off mountain lions using rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, and their bare hands. Direct your blows to the animal’s eyes, nose, ears and face. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck of his victim, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. The lion is looking for a meal, not a fight. Additionally, rescuers are almost never badly hurt.
OTHER NONLETHAL DETERRENTS: Pepper spray as a deterrent has not been tested on mountain lions. However, it has been used effectively by zookeepers on tigers, African lions and jaguars. The trick is, you must see the mountain lion and face it to use the pepper spray properly. Bells, whistles, and air horns won’t hurt, but their effectiveness has not been proven.
Mountain lion sightings and attacks are rare.
There is a far greater risk of being struck by lightning than of being attacked by a mountain lion.
Only 14 people have been killed by mountain lions in North America in the past 100 years. That compares with 1,300 deaths by rattlesnakes and 4,000 by bees.
Only 14 people have been attacked by mountain lions resulting in 6 fatalities in California in the past 114 years.
IMMEDIATELY REPORT ALL ENCOUNTERS OR ATTACKS: California Department of Fish and Game 24 hour dispatch center at (916) 445-0045.
Deurbrouck, Jo & Miller, Dean, Cat Attacks, Sasquatch Books, 2001.
Elliott, Steve, "Mountain Lions: What you need to Know," Modesto Bee, June 13, 2000.
"Living With California Mountain Lions," State of California, Department of Fish and Game, 1998.
Smith, Dave, Don’t Get Eaten, The Mountaineers Books, 2003.
Stetz, Michael, "Humans, mountain lions coexist in Cuyamaca, study says," The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 20, 2004, p. B3.
Zieraiski, Ed, "Wildlife officials seek cause of twin lion attacks in park," The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 10, 2004, pp. A1 & A6.