Are There Mountain Lions in California? Everything You Need To Know

Mountain Lions in California

Everyone is familiar with the magnificent and proud lions of the African wilds but their smaller, solitary, and shy American cousins are another matter entirely. Called by a variety of names, like cougar, panther, puma, catamount, or ghost cat, the mountain lions of North America are extremely difficult to spot since they use the element of surprise to ambush their prey and are very secretive.

Below In this article, I’ve explained everything about the Mountain Lions In California. 

Are there Mountain Lions in California?

Yes, California is one of the US states where mountain lions do exist in the wild. The mountain lion is a species of wildlife that is native to the continents of North and South America. Since they are solitary animals by nature, they are extremely difficult to spot.

Mountain lions are some of the most diverse terrestrial animals in the Americas since they can survive both the heat of the South American nations and the freezing cold climates of Canada. They are extremely adaptable and can exist in different kinds of ecosystems. 

How Many Mountain Lions Are in California?

California has recently become very invested in protecting its mountain lion populations. Mountain lions are listed as a species that is in danger of becoming endangered in the state. Laws have been put into place to prevent the hunting and poaching of these magnificent cats. 

It is difficult to keep track of exact numbers for any kind of wild animal. Radio collars and camera traps can only take one so far. As these big cats tend to avoid human beings, it is even tougher for researchers to get exact numbers. 

Current estimates state that the population of mountain lions in California is between 4000 and 6000 but this is likely an overestimation. Given the size of California, these numbers are much less than could be hoped for.

Where Do Mountain Lions Live in California?

Mountain Lions in California

California is a big state and only about 46 percent of it is ideal mountain lion habitat. Scientists have guessed the number of mountain lions in the state from the population densities in these areas. Mountain lions thrive in rocky areas with big deer populations. They can adapt well to both heat and cold. 

They prefer woody areas with lots of water resources since that is where the prey base is plentiful. Woodlands, mountains, and coniferous forests are their favorite haunts. Rugged and rocky terrains provide them with the cover that they need while hunting.

Mountain lions are found throughout the state of California, including both inland and coastal areas. The only exceptions are the desert regions in the southeast and the Central Valley. The highest concentration of mountain lions is towards the south of the state, especially the San Gabriel Mountains and the Santa Ana Mountains.

Also, Check Our Guide On Mountain Lions In the U.S.

How Big are Mountain Lions in California?

Mountain lions don’t technically belong to the Big Cat family since they aren’t part of the Panthera genus. (They also do not get this privilege since they don’t have the elongated larynx that allows other big cats to roar). However, they are given honorary membership to this exclusive club because of the sheer size that they can grow to.

Mountain lions are very agile and muscular. They have extremely strong hind legs which help them make massive jumps and put on brief bursts of speed. Mountain lions, like most big cats, are sprinters and not marathon runners. 

Adult males can grow up to 8 feet in length and weigh about 200 pounds. Female adults are slightly smaller at 6 feet in length and 140 pounds in weight. They gain an extra thick coat during the winter months.

A fascinating aspect about mountain lions is that they are usually smaller in size closer to the equator. The closer they get to the poles, the larger they grow. The excess body weight and fat help mountain lions in colder climates to survive the lean winter months. 

Are Mountain Lions a Problem in California?

Even though mountain lions are apex predators, instances of humans being attacked by them are actually quite rare. They are quite shy in the first place and avoid urban areas. However, the rapid growth of cities and farmlands has led to certain encounters.

Humans have begun encroaching on the territories of these wild animals. Agricultural and urban expansion has not only robbed mountain lions of their habitats, it has also led to human-animal confrontations.

How Many Mountain Lion Attacks in California?

Mountain Lion in California

The California Department of Fish and Game, which came up with the estimates of mountain lion populations, reports that there have only been 22 confirmed attacks in the last four decades. 

Only three of these were fatal, while the rest resulted in injuries. The last recorded mountain lion attack in California was in 2004. The people most at risk are ranchers, whose huge farms have begun to eat away at mountain lion territory. Sometimes, the big cats wander onto their land which might lead to conflict.

Can You Kill a Mountain Lion in California?

In the past, there have been many incidents of mountain lions being hunted in California. Their pelts, meat, and claws were sold in the black market and people even kept the skins and heads as trophies! 

It was only in 1990 that they were formally recognized as a protected species. This meant that the hunting of mountain lions in California became illegal.

While hunting mountain lions as a recreational activity is banned, there is an exception to the law. In certain situations, a person may be permitted to hunt an individual mountain lion. This is usually the case when the mountain lion has injured or killed livestock or pets.

There are other laws that protect the mountain lion in California. It is not permitted to sell, acquire, possess, or transport mountain lions, their offspring, or any of their parts. Protecting them is critical to maintaining the ecosystem since a stable level of predators ensures that the prey base does not get out of control.  

Also, Read About Mountain Lions in Colorado

What To Do If You See a Mountain Lion in California?

So now that you know some of the important facts about this beautiful and deadly mammal, what would you do if you were to encounter them unexpectedly? 

You might be surprised to learn that the mountain lion is probably more wary of you than you are of it. Mountain lions are ambush predators. They would be very uninterested in coming face to face with humans. 

However, these big cats can be unpredictable and dangerous if they are feeling threatened. It is important to educate people on what they should do if they do find themselves in a situation where they are faced with a mountain lion. They do not want to fight you (unless they have cubs and are feeling defensive). 

The first thing to remember is that you should not panic. Do not try to run away or turn your back on the wild animal. Do not try to crouch down and hide.

Your aim should be to make yourself more intimidating and scare away the lion. Stand at your full height, speak loudly, and wave your arms around. Make yourself the more significant threat so the mountain lion retreats quickly.


And that was everything about the Mountain Lions In California. I hope this article served you well.

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