Predator Awareness in the Rural & Urban Interface
Mountain Lion Facts
The mountain lion, Felis concolor, or cat of one color, is also known as cougar, panther, ghost cat, catamount, and puma.
About the Mountain Lion
The mountain lion is the largest feline carnivore of North America. Adults are tawny to chocolate-brown with black tips on their ears and their long tails.
On average, females measure 7 feet from nose to tail and weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.
Males may reach up to 8 feet in length and weigh between 130 and 150 pounds. Largest recorded mountain lion weighed in at 276 lbs.
How to recognize the presence of Mountain Lions in urban environments
One of the immediate ways to suspect the presence of mountain lions is to be aware of the big cat’s preferred prey.
A Mountain lion’s preferred prey in urban areas is Columbian Blacktail Deer. Here on the Oregon coast there is plentiful habitat for deer. Where there are deer, it is likely a mountain lion is not far away.
Dogs and cats are easy mountain lion prey
Also in urban area’s, Cougars will feed on easy prey like house cats and dogs. A spike in pet disappearance in the neighborhood, could predict a mountain lion in the area.
The risk to domestic pets is higher if fluffy or fido fed or left outside, especially at night. Cougars will eat your pets food and dogs chained outside can be easy prey for the big cat.
Front tracks measure – 3″1/16 to 4” L. by 2 ¾” to 4”5/16 W.
Cat tracks will look almost round and rarely showing claws.
Hind tracks measure – 2″15/16 to 4″1/8 L. by 2″9/16 to 4″3/4 W.
How to measure the print of a Cougar or Dog
Measure the width of a track at the widest part. The track length from the end of the tracks heel to the nail. Or, if no nails are present then measure from heel to the end of the longest toe length or digit.
Use these measurements to decide if the tracks fall within the average measurement. If it does, then check to see if claw tracks are visible, make sure to measure the track length including claws.
How to tell the difference between cat and dog tracks
Dog tracks are often mistaken for cougar tracks.
Dog paws do not have retractable claws or nails as mountain lions do. And lion tracks have a shape, like a circle.
Unlike a dog track which has a Maple leaf type shape. Dog tracks are much narrower in width than cats tracks.
This is a good cue for the searcher. Cats show their claws in tracks only about 10% of the time, where dogs show their nails 100% of the time.
In the photo on the right, you can imagine the circle shape of the lion track as you trace the track circumference. The track photo on the top of the page may be a better example of the roundness of the feline print.
Mountain Lion Scat
Scat consists of droppings left by any animal. Spore size is best determined by measuring the diameter of the scat then the length.
Scat: ¾” to 1” average diameter, is tubular and segmented. With at least 1 blunt end containing deer hair, bones, and grass.
lion scat can vary in size and shape. An example of non typical scat is when cougars gorge on fresh prey. Their scat is no longer distinct and segmented but a pile with no recognizable tubular shape at all.
The Ghost Cat, in my experience, does not always cover its scat such as a house cat will do. More often I have found cougar scat uncovered and in plain sight.
This specific scat specimen in the photograph. Is unusual to us because of the white substance on the outside of the scat. Cougars carry this white substance in their intestinal tract. We also found lion tracks in the immediate area supported our findings. Notice the Yarrow flower stalk for size comparison.
Other types of Mountain Lion Sign
Cougars will communicate their territories to each other. They do this by scraping together a pile of debris using their paws. They then urinate on the pile. This is a scent scrape.
The scent scrapes can measure up to 1 ft diameter. Cougars scrape together a pile of debris, which may include mosses and leaves as in the photo to the right.
Or use other detritus such as sticks and conifer needles to mark their territory. The cougar will then spray the piles with their urine. Thus ensuring communication with other cats.
The scent scrapes are territorial intersections where other cougar areas overlap. To confirm the cougar scent scrape yourself, bend down and give the pile a quick whiff. If it has a strong cat-like scent it’s a cougar scrape.
Mating Season: from December to March, but can happen at any time during the year. Gestation: 82-96 days. Litter size: 2-4 kittens.
Mountain lions can:
- Bound 30 to 40 feet running
- Leap 15 feet up a tree
- Climb over a 12-foot fence
- Travel many miles at 10 mph
- Reach speeds of 50 mph in a sprint
- Take down adult elk
Lions kill 1-2 deer a week and will hide and guard large carcasses and feed on them for several days. Caution: if you discover an animal such as a deer or elk covered or partly covered in debris. Leave the area immediately and report the site to SAR Command. Mountain lions will protect their kills and may be aggressive.
One lion can consume up to 20 or 30 pounds of meat in a single meal.
Mountain Lion diets consist of:
- bighorn sheep
- mountain goats
- ground squirrels
Mountain lions do prey on other lions if no other game is available.
Protect your pets
Dogs and cats left outside overnight when chained with an active lion in the area are easy prey.Don’t feed pets outside or leave pet food feeding bowls out. Pets left outside at night may draw in hungry lions.
“The odds are better you will be struck by lightning than attacked by a Mountain lion”
Range – The range of a Mountain Lion may cover 25 to 785 square miles.
Lifespan – Mountain Lions live an average of 8-10 years in the wild and can live up to 20 years in captivity.
Lifestyle – Mountain lions live solitary lives. A mother mountain lion and its kittens live together until the kitten is old enough to survive on its own
Breeding Habits – Female mountain lions breed for their first time between one and a half and three years of age.
Lion kitten lifespan –on an average only 1 in 6 survive
Dominant males may kill juveniles within their territories leaving juveniles in marginal habitat. This can lead to starvation or encounters with humans.
In California where Fish and Game laws protect the big cats from hunting. 75% of the kittens do not live to be two years old.
Bounty Hunting of Mountain Lions
Bounty hunting of Mountain Lions began as early as the 1600s in North America. Early settlers feared predators believing they had a negative effect on game populations.
By the 1900s predators were killed in astonishing numbers. The killing of so many predators caused a disastrous effect on the ecosystem in some areas. Loss of wolves and cougars led to overpopulation of deer and other herbivores. Resulting in overgrazing, increased erosion, and decline in the long-term health of ecosystems.
Human and Cougar Conflict
A scientific review of records on attacks on humans by mountain lions in the United States and Canada. Starting from 1890 through 1990. Indicated there were 53 mountain lion attacks on humans during this period. Nine attacks resulting in 10 human deaths, and 44 non-fatal attacks. At least 10 attacks since 2000 to present in the U.S. resulting in death from lion attacks.
- Oregon has remained attack-free for more than 100 years. This number could change based on a suspected cougar attack in Oregon.
In the event that you meet an aggressive Mountain Lion:
- Maintain eye contact at all times, and never turn away from the lion – extremely important.
- Stand up straight, with arms above your head to appear larger.
- Back away very slowly for when the lion is guarding a kill or den.
- Throw rocks or sticks and yell at the animal if it approaches.
- Fight back If the cougar does attack.
- If you play dead with a Mountain Lion, you will be.
*Remember above all DO NOT RUN! No cat can resist the instinct to give chase.
Hiking and camping in mountain lion habitat
- Do not hike alone
- Go in groups of adults supervising children
- Avoid dawn and dusk excursions.
- Keep children close to you. Animals seem especially drawn to children.
- Pick up, small children. The mountain lion will see small children as easier prey.
- Do not approach a lion. Most mountain lions will try to avoid confrontation, so give them a way to escape.
- Do not run from a lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase.
- Do not crouch down or bend over. A human standing does not resemble a mountain lion’s natural prey.
- Do carry Bear Spray.
Defending against an aggressive Mountain Lion
- Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.
- Fight back if attacked. Mountain lions usually try to bite the head or neck area; try to stay standing and face the attacking animal.
- The eyes of cougars are especially sensitive. Use any sharp object, pen, stick, to jab into eye socket.
Bear pepper spray is a recommended deterrent for use against an aggressive and attacking lion.
Bear pepper spray must contain 1.3%-2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids. Suggested spray distance is at least 25 feet in a cloud pattern lasting 6 seconds or more. Reference; USFS Cibola National Forest Website.
Recent Mountain Lion Sightings Coos County Oregon
- 5/12/2014 evidence of a cougar Tuesday down Mobilane Road, a gravel street near Charleston OR. Kinyoun said that cougar sightings could end up being anything from dogs and raccoons to a bobcat.
- North Bend for the second straight day, reports of a mountain lion sighting was on the North Bend Police logs for Tuesday, Sept. 8, 9:27 a.m., Chinook/Roosevelt,“Mountain lion sighting, occurred 9-7-15 @ approximately noon.”
- A woman reported Monday her husband had seen a cougar walking along the tree line at North Bend Medical Center in Coos Bay. Coos Bay Capt. Cal Mitts said officers who went to the center, 1900 Woodland Drive, were unable to find any tracks.
- “We have not had one in that area that has proven to be a cougar but we have had sightings,” Mitts said, referring to three or four reports in the last couple of years.”
- Cougar Warning, Aug. 27 Police in Florence have warned residents to be on the lookout for wandering cougars. There have been several sightings reported in the Munsel Lake Road area, around Coastal Highlands and Kingwood Street.
Verified Mountain Lion Attacks in California
Verified Mountain Lion attacks on humans in California (1986 through 2014). The CDFW (California Department of Fish and Wildlife) defines a mountain lion attack as an incident resulting in direct physical contact between a human and a mountain lion resulting in physical injury or death to the person.
CDFW considers a mountain lion attack to be verified only when a physician, law enforcement officer or CDFW personnel find the injuries are caused by a mountain lion.
Also Guidelines for Living In and Visiting Mountain Lion Habitat by the USFS.Recommended Reading
The Beast in the Garden. Warning from Mark, if you read Baron’s book you may never go outside again. The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous by Paula Wild. And, Cat Attacks and True Stories and Hard Lessons from Cougar Country by Dean Miller.
Read about Oregon’s Toxic Amphibian – Wing of bat, eye of newt….
Have a Mountain Lion sighting or story? See the comments section below.
Mark Wienert – Lifesong Wilderness Adventures. Busch, Robert H. The Cougar Almanac: A Complete Natural History of the Mountain Lion. New York: Lyons and Burford, 1996. Whitaker, John O. 1996. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals. Alfred A Knopf, Inc. p937. Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest by David Moskowitz. MOUNTAIN LION FACT SHEET By T. R. Mader, Research Director. Mountain lion facts USFS Defenders of Wildlife Mountain Lion Fact Sheet. Extreme Science, Mail Tribune, The World. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.