By Carolyn Mead / Special to the Hi-Desert Star
Saturday, September 2, 2006 12:13 AM PDT
The California mountain lion has many names, including puma, cougar, Florida panther and red tiger. There are more names in the dictionary for cougars than for any other animal in the world.
To the surprise to many of the Morongo Basin's residents, this is prime mountain lion country. These predators have always lived here, preying on deer and other wildlife and playing an important role in the ecosystem.
The current status as a protected species of the mountain lion in California has evolved from that of a “bountied predator” between 1907 and 1963 to “game animal” in 1969, to being declared protected in 1990. This change in legal status is in response to the growing appreciation and concern for the mountain lion.
We live and play in mountain lion country, and like any wildlife, mountain lions can be dangerous to the uninformed. By arming ourselves with a little knowledge of their behavior and rules for avoiding them, we can coexist peacefully with these magnificent animals.
The mountain lion is the largest member of the cat family in North America. They are large and slender with thick, tawny-colored, fur.
Markings on their relatively small heads include a black spot above each eye and black on the sides of their muzzles.
Their ears and tail are black-tipped and sometimes they have a grayish or reddish patch behind the ears, while the upper lips, chins and throats are white.
The long, cylindrical tail measures almost two-thirds the length of the head and body. Their legs are short and muscular. The eyes of mature animals are grayish brown to golden.
The mountain lion is the largest of the purring cats, and unlike African lions it doesn't roar. Instead it makes a variety of sounds that includes meows, growls, hisses and something that sounds like a woman's scream.
The mountain lion is a solitary animal with summer and winter home areas in different locations, requiring a migration between ranges as it follows its main prey, the mule deer and bighorn sheep.
They usually hunt at night and have a distinctive manner of hunting larger prey. Maneuvering to within 45 feet of the prey and exploding from a crouched stalking position, the lion seizes its prey before it has time to escape.
After the attack, the prey is generally dragged to a place of safety before being eaten. The carcass is often covered with dirt and leaves and may be totally devoured over the course of a few days.
The potential for face-to-face encounters between humans and mountain lions has increased in recent years. However, more people are injured or killed by deer, bees, dogs and spiders than by mountain lions. People should familiarize themselves with mountain lion signs and habitat and the follow these suggestions to help prevent an attack.
€ Do not hike alone: Go in groups, with adults supervising children.
€ Do not approach a mountain lion: Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
€ Do not run from a mountain lion: Running may stimulate the instinct to chase. Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If you have small children with you, pick them up so they don't panic and run. Try to pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lion.
€ Do all you can to appear larger: Raise your arms, open your jacket and throw stones or whatever you can without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak in a firm, loud voice.
€ Fight back if attacked: Because a lion tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. Use rocks, sticks, jackets, garden tools, camping gear and your hands to fend off the attack.
€ Don't feed wildlife: By feeding deer, raccoons or other wildlife in your yard, you may inadvertently attract mountain lions, which prey on them as a food source. Be aware that planting trees and shrubs that attract deer may also attract mountain lions. If you are interested in landscaping for wildlife, there are alternatives including gardening for birds, bats and butterflies.
€ Make it difficult for mountain lions to approach your yard without being seen: Remove dense and low-lying vegetation, especially around walkways and children's play areas. At night, bring pets inside or keep them in a kennel with a secure top. Don't feed pets outside as this can attract mountain lions and their prey.
€ Install outdoor lighting: Keep the perimeter of your house well lit at night.
€ Educate children: Teach children what to do if they encounter a mountain lion.
If you do have a face-to face encounter with a mountain lion, contact the nearest Department of Fish and Game. In case of human attack, call 9-1-1 for immediate emergency assistance.