Mountain lion

The mountain lion (or cougar) is found only in the western hemisphere. In the Americas its range runs from the Straits of Magellan to the Canadian Yukon. It is found throughout Arizona except for the extremely arid southwest region and the areas where there is dense urban development.

Mountain lion, USFWS photo by Larry Moats

USFWS photo by Larry Moats

Since these big cats are top level predators, they do not normally exist in heavy concentrations. One single animal will have a large territory enforced by boundary marking for mutual avoidance and survival. Except at breeding time and when raising young, mountain lions are solitary animals. The young, which may be born at any time of year, remain with their mother 15 to 22 months and then leave to seek out their own territories. The almost two-year period of training by their mother is necessary if the kittens are to have the necessary skills to stalk and kill their prey without being fatally injured themselves.

Young mountain lions, USFWS photo

USFWS photo

Though they are rarely seen by humans, adult mountain lions can be expected to dwell anywhere that there are deer, their principal prey animal. These proficient hunters need to kill a deer-sized animal, weighing from 125 to 200 pounds, once every week or two. The lion will cover with leaves or debris whatever is left of the prey after the first feeding. A deer will generally be consumed in two nights. When not hunting these big cats live in mountain dens similar to the one shown below.

Mountain lion den, USFWS photo by Gary Stolz

Mountain Lion den (looking out from inside)
USFWS photo by Gary Stolz

If you encounter a mountain lion

  • DO NOT approach it.
  • DO NOT run past or away from the animal; that may trigger its chase instinct.
  • DO NOT bend over or crouch down.
  • DO Make yourself appear larger and more aggressive. Open your jacket, raise your arms, and throw rocks or sticks to discourage predatory behavior. Speak loudly and slowly.
  • Back away slowly. DO NOT run. (Food runs.)
  • REPORT the sighting immediately to Forest Service or Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists. Arizona Game & Fish Department (520) 628-5376, Coronado National Forest (520) 388-8300 or (520) 749-8700

If you are attacked by a mountain lion

  • Fight back with whatever you have at hand without turning your back. You will be fighting for your life.
  • Try to remain standing to protect your head and neck.
  • DO NOT play dead.

To avoid a potential attack by a mountain lion:

  • Always hike or jog with a companion.
  • Avoid times when cats are likely to be most active: dawn, dusk and during evening hours.
  • Avoid areas where the cats are likely to be found. These include:
    • Desert mountain areas with broken terrain.
    • Cliffs and steep slopes are favorite vantage points for cats where they can easily pounce on prey from above.
    • Mountain lions also conceal themselves in brushy areas where they can rush prey then drag their kill back into a protected area.