The roving and secretive mountain lions of Lake County live in our densely tangled slopes, canyons, and forests. The mountain lion is masterful at remaining hidden, however, it does make its presence known from time to time. Most recently, a mountain lion was spotted on a south county resident’s critter cam after it made a meal of some plump sheep. With all of the deer in the vicinity, it was a hard reminder that livestock and pets are vulnerable as well.
A few years back, some friends sighted a mountain lion in the tree line off Highway 29, in south Lake County, as they were leaving town. The mountain lion slipped into the surrounding landscape, disappearing as though by magic. Mountain lions, cougars, or pumas, these regal creatures are following a trend in evolving wildlife patterns that are being studied in our state and beyond. Questions can be posed to wildlife experts, such as what is the mountain lion count in Lake County? How are mountain lions, and for that matter, other wildlife, affected by drought conditions?
It is somewhat comforting to understand that the mountain lion’s preference is to steer clear of humans. Wildlife researchers say that it’s more likely to be struck by lightning than to be mauled by a mountain lion. According to Bay Nature Magazine, a rare mountain lion attack occurred in the Santa Cruz mountains in 2014. Then, the mountain lion was caught and killed, and a study was conducted to ascertain the health of the young lion. Prior to that assault, the last attack on a human being in the Bay Area was way back in 1909; and in that case, the aggressive mountain lion was rabid.
Mountain lions range all across North and South America, where they are native. Scientists tell us that these large, wild animals are strong indicators of the healthy natural connectivity for an area’s wildlife. Since these cats prefer rocky outcrops in which to ambush their prey, as well as nearly impenetrable underbrush in which to hide, they fare better here in Lake County than in areas where they find it necessary to make harrowing journeys across highways, rivers, and private lands. That being said, they can also adapt to open areas.
They have adapted to reside in the cold Yukon in the north, all of the way to the Andes in South America. Mountain lions are classed to the family Felinae, and can be solitary and secretive, making a sighting a very rare occurrence. Their diet here in Lake County includes deer, sometimes elk, mice, rats and other rodents. At times they consume insects as well.
In other areas, they have been found to dine on cattle, and other livestock, as well as bighorn sheep. These wild cats are recognized as territorial creatures, but it’s tricky to determine just how large their territories are, as the terrain plays a part in the size of a cat’s territory. Even though mountain lions have been protected from hunting since 1990, mankind is the leading cause of death for these animals.
The cause of death originated from data collected from collared lions in dozens of areas of California and include loss by automobile collision and depredation. There are some instances of abandoned dens, but those are rare. We are lucky in Lake County that we coexist with such an abundance of native creatures, including the tawny, athletic, and wild mountain lion.