Nature Notes: Mountain Lions

Historically, Mountain Lions ranged from Canada to the southern tip of South America, including all of the 48 continental states. Today the mountain lion’s range in the U.S. has been reduced to remote areas of the western states. 

In Texas, the mountain lion is found throughout the Trans-Pecos region and in the brush lands of South Texas. There is evidence that the animal’s range is increasing into parts of Central Texas. 

A typical adult mountain lion will have a home range of about 100 square miles. While adult lions’ home ranges may overlap slightly, they are solitary animals, and their population density is very low. Confirmed mountain lion sightings are fairly uncommon. Less than 10 percent of reported sightings are verified by physical evidence. Most sightings last less than 10 seconds, so it’s easy to mistake another animal for a mountain lion.
Attacks on humans are rare.  Mountain lions have an instinctive fear of humans and do not regard humans as prey. Since 1980, only three attacks on humans by mountain lions have been reported in Texas. All three attacks were in remote areas of West Texas. From 1890 to 2001, only 98 mountain lion attacks were reported in all of the United States and Canada; in those 60 years, only 17 attacks were fatal. Conversely, each year about 200,000 thousand people are injured in dog attacks, 20 of those being fatal.

Mountain lions are light, tawny brown and look like very large domestic cats, but with a smallish head, slender body, and long tail. Full grown adults may weigh 100 to 150 pounds. 

If you see a mountain lion, consider yourself lucky to have seen such an elusive and shy animal in its natural habitat. Stay safe, and don’t approach the lion. Pick up small children and pets. Observe the animal calmly, maintain eye contact and back away slowly. Don’t turn your back or run. You can’t outrun a mountain lion, and running will trigger its chase instinct. If the lion approaches you, raise your arms and stand up straight; yell and throw rocks at it. If the lion attacks you, stand your ground and fight back. Mountain lions will generally not press an attack on a victim who fights. 

If you’re outdoors where mountain lions have been spotted, protect yourself. Don’t hike alone. Carry a stick or pepper spray with you. Keep pets on a leash, and walk during the day when lions are not active.

Don’t feed deer or other wildlife near your house and keep pets inside at night. Store your garbage securely. Report all mountain lion sightings to the nearest Texas Parks and Wildlife office or the local game warden.

Mountain lions normally prey on deer, javelinas and small mammals. But they will occasionally take sheep, goats and young cattle. 

Because of its fearsome reputation, the mountain lion is killed indiscriminately in Texas. But many regard the mountain lion as a symbol of the untamed west. 
Whatever one’s perspective, mountain lions are a fascinating animal and a part of West Texas life.


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